Sunday, October 30, 2011

To Iron Is Human But To Press Is Divine

Believe it or not, there is a difference between ironing and pressing.  Ironing is a gliding movement back and forth with the iron.  We do this to remove wrinkles from blouses, shirts and pants.  Pressing is an up and down movement which we use to set in creases on pant legs. Pressing greatly reduces the possibility of distorting the fibers and stretching the fabric.

When I first started quilting (back in the Dark Ages it seems), I was taught to "press" my seams flat with the right sides together to set the stitches and then, with the darker fabric on top, flip the dark patch upwards and gently butt the tip of the iron along the seam line on the right side while pressing the seam to one side. For many years I followed this rule using a dry iron to further prevent the possibility of stretching the fabric. Then I encountered a teacher who advocated the use of steam, so I tried that for a few years.

I am now back to using a dry iron unless I am trying to wrestle a piece of fabric into submission (better known as shrinking or perhaps stretching a piece of cotton to fit the next patch or block).  I truly believe it makes a more precise piece of patchwork. (Notice that I did not say a "perfect" piece of patchwork since mine has never been accused of that distinction.)

I never questioned the practice of pressing quilt seams to one side until recently. I came to quilting from garment construction and assumed that we press 1/4 inch seams to one side because they are hard to press open unlike 5/8 inch seams used in clothing.  I have learned that the reason for the pressing to one side developed when patchwork was done by hand.  Hand stitches are not as even and as close together as machine stitches. Pressing the seam open would allow the filler (batting) to escape through the gaps between stitches. This is not a problem with machine stitches which are typically 12 stitches to the inch.

 I am currently piecing my second quilt with seams pressed open and liking the results.  Yes, it is a bit trickier to press them - I use a tool to "finger" press them open as I go. Seams lay flat and matching seams is a lot easier for me. (I'll talk about matching seams in another post.)  One caveat: if you plan to do stitching in the ditch to quilt your patchwork, DO NOT press the seams open.

Here's an I Spy quilt that I made for my grandchildren and a detail of it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Made in America

The following statistics appeared in a newsletter from Checker Distributors. They supply sewing notions, patterns and books on a wholesale basis and are marking their products made in America with a little American flag symbol. I am not surprised but I am dismayed at the results. With apologies to our Canadian, Mexican, Central and South American friends who are American as well, we need to buy "American" when possible if we are going to put our citizens back to work but it seems to be getting increasingly difficult to do so.  I have however been heartened recently by the decision of several companies to return their call centers to this country. I have also heard of some manufacturing which has been brought back home.

A.) 97% of all Patterns are made in America                      
B.) 69% of all Zippers are made in America                                    
C.) 56% of all Gifts are made in America
D.) 51% of all Books are made in America
E.) 48% of all Crafts are made in America
F.) 42% of all Notions are made in America
G.) Only 7% of our Threads are made in America
H.) Only 1% of our Fabrics are made in Amerca

This morning on the Today show, they asked some of the questions that appear on the exam for Naturalized citizens. I think that they know more about this country than most of us do.

Some things to think about on our Nation's  235th birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dieing or is it Dyeing?

Some years ago, a friend and I were having a wonderful time dyeing in my kitchen. This was before I had a studio for such things. A physician neighbor came to the door about something and I answered it wearing my surgical gown (which makes a great cover-up for dyeing and painting by the way).  He looked rather startled and I said: "Oh, we're just dyeing."  His expression became more concerned and I realized that he thought I said "dieing" and not "dyeing". I hurriedly explained and his whole body visibly relaxed.  Evidently he was planning to spring into action to save our lives.  I still laugh over this incident many years later.

Yesterday I rinsed out a new batch of a 15 step gradation using ProChem MX Sun Yellow (108), Fuchsia (308), and Intense Blue (406). The above picture shows the dyes soaking in my laundry tub before I threw them into the washing machine. I used to spend a lot of back breaking time rinsing and rinsing and rinsing until the water ran clear before I put the dyed fabrics into the washer. Several years ago, I discovered that if I quickly rinsed the fabric under running water and then left them to soak in hot water until the water cooled (at least 30 minutes), followed by a Synthrapol wash and then a Milsoft rinse, they were good to go. My back is very grateful for the relief.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Digital Age

I love to read.  I have had a love affair with books my entire life.  I also have a masters degree in information and library studies. I have always loved the look, the feel, the smell of the printed word but.....I looooove my Kindle.  How to justify my love affair with my Kindle with my love of the physical book?

Over the course of my life, I have had to adjust to many changes not the least of which is digital technology. I started key punching programs that I wrote in graduate school and ran on a mainframe computer. My first computer was an Atari and later I graduated to a Windows PC and at this point I have owned at least 3 desktops and 3 laptops. I love computers although I do get crazy sometimes with their quirks but I appreciate all of the things that they can do for me from keeping my accounts to designing quilts to sharing my thoughts and feelings with friends and even strangers on Facebook and this blog.

Which brings me to the Kindle. I believe that digital books are the future (Amazon already sells more digital books than paper ones). I can read my Kindle books on my PC, my iPhone, my iPad or my Kindle reader. I have my current book available to me wherever I go and I can take 3,500 books with me at any one time. Try that with paper books. I have a built-in dictionary to check the definition and pronunciation of words instantly and I use it often because who wants to get up and find a dictionary to check out a word that is not familiar assuming that a dictionary is even available. The Kindle is lighter in weight than most books and can be read in bright sunlight unlike most digital readers. I can hear about a new book and download it to my Kindle in one minute or try a free sample chapter before committing to a purchase. No time consuming trips to the bookstore only to discover that they do not have the book in question. My tired old eyes also appreciate the ability to change the size of the font or listen to my book by turning on the audio.

We are living in an age when instant gratification is becoming the norm and digital books are only another reflection of that phenomenon.  I believe that libraries and bookstores have a future but they must adapt and change as our culture changes. That is not a new concept for libraries. Many libraries already lend digital books and have computers available for patrons to use.

As of the last count, nine people have sold over a million digital books and one man, John Locke, has sold over a million SELF PUBLISHED digital books. He has even written a book about how he did it - "How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months". The trick is MARKETING. The publishing industry must also adapt to current practices. Some publishers are limiting the number of times that a book can be borrowed from a library, some publishers are controlling the selling price of ebooks, and some booksellers are attempting to take a 75% cut of the selling price. It can be a win-win situation for everyone but it will take a while for all sectors to adapt and eventually thrive but don't worry.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Call of the Loon

I love loons! They are so elegant and regal with their highly contrasting black and white plumage. No wonder I like to wear that color combination and use it to make quilts as well.

I took the above picture several years ago of one of a pair of Common Loons residing in our cove. I look forward to seeing and hearing their calls every summer. They have been very quiet so far this year for some reason. The only time that I have heard them is when a seaplane flies over. I can only guess that they are telling the seaplane (which is probably a giant bird to them) that this is THEIR territory and keep away.

Our water level was very high last year and remained high for many weeks. Our dock was under water for a long time. There were no loon babies in our cove last year and I surmised that their nest had been flooded. I am hoping that they will be more successful this year.

Until recently I had thought that one of the parents sits on the nest until the egg hatches but evidently that isn't necessarily so. The eggs (usually two) have to be turned on a regular basis (about once an hour for Common Loons) but the eggs don't have to be sat upon all of the time. Some studies have shown that loons only spent about 55 percent of the time on their nest but it probably depends on many factors especially the weather. On sunny, hot days the loons can probably leave incubation to mother nature for a while.

I listen for their calls which reassure me that all is well especially at night. There are four distinct calls which have been labelled  the hoot (emitted softly and used between family members), wail (a call of interaction between 2 loons such as a loon calling its' mate to relieve it on the nest), tremolo (often compared to an insane laugh), and yodel (which is given only by the male and is a territorial warning).

If you are out on the water this summer, watch for loons but remember to keep your motor boat far away to protect one of our precious natural resources.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tension Techniques

Most people get very nervous when the subject of changing tension settings is broached.  Mastering the ability to change the tension on your sewing machine will broaden your horizons in your sewing career.  It will allow you to sew with many different types and weights of thread and will allow you to add new specialty techniques to your sewing toolbox. The following instructions are based on using the same weight of thread top and bottom.

There are two places where the thread tension can be changed on a sewing machine. The main one is the tension dial on the top of your machine and the second one is the tiny screw on the bobbin case. The first thing to know about tension is that you must raise the presser foot when you thread your machine. When the presser foot is down, the tension discs are closed and the thread cannot be properly seated between them. When you want to change the upper tension, place the presser foot in the down position so that the discs are closed onto the thread.  To repeat: raise the presser foot to thread and lower the presser foot to change.

The above illustration shows three tension settings. The first one is locking the stitches on the underside of the fabric which means that the bobbin tension is too tight or the top tension is too loose. Since it is easier to change the top tension, we would move the dial to a higher or positive number. The illustration shows the arrow pointing in a clockwise direction. Righty tighty and lefty loosey. Have you ever heard that expression before?  Remember it because you will use it many times in your life and not just for sewing.  The second illustration is the opposite of the first one. The threads are locking on the top side of the fabric. In this case we would loosen the top tension and as you can see, the arrow is pointing in a counterclockwise direction.  The third illustration shows balanced tension with the threads locking in the center of the fabric.  It is much easier to see the tension balance or lack of it if you use two different colors of thread top and bottom when learning to adjust tensions.

The above illustration of a bobbin case shows the adjusting screw and once again, righty tighty and lefty loosey. The adustment would be the exact opposite of the adjustment of the upper tension dial. If the thread is being pulled to the underside, the bobbin tension is too tight so loosen it by turning the screw 1/4 turn to the left and vice versa if the thread is being pulled to the top side.  Always make your bobbin tension adjustments one quarter turn at a time and then test it before turning it further. The screw is very tiny and very short. To be safe it is best to change the tension inside of a plastic bag so that if your screw falls out, you can find it again. One of my dear friends dropped her screw in class recently and several of us were climbing around on the floor looking for it.  Fortunately we did find the screw and I was able to put the bobbin case back together for her.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Needle Know How

Using the right needle for the job will result in a better finished product. Knowing the correct needle to use and using it, is essential. Always be sure to match the thread and the needle type to the fabric and the needle size to the fabric and thread that you are using. The needle eye and thread groove has to be large enough to accommodate the size of the thread to prevent shredding and breaking.

Universal needles have a slightly rounded point and were designed to use on both knits and wovens. In my opinion, why use a hybrid when you can use the type of needle that was made for a specific purpose.

Stretch needles have a medium ball point with a special eye and scarf and are designed to be used on very stretchy knits.

Jersey needles have a medium ball point and are to be used on moderately stretchy knits.

Jeans or denim needles have a sharper point to penetrate thicker fabrics including denim and quilts with little needle deflection (straighter stitching) or skipped stitches.

Microtex needles have a very slim point to allow for smooth penetration into micro fibers and silk.

Quilting needles have a special tapered  point for piecing and machine quilting.

Embroidery needles have a wide eye and a deeper groove. They are made to withstand the higher temperatures which develop when stitching rapidly over a period of time. The scarf, groove and eye protect the specialty threads and reduce friction.

Metallic needles have an elongated eye for use with metallic thread to prevent shredding and breaking.

Topstitch needles are extra sharp with a deeper groove and have an eye that is twice as long for use with heavy threads or multiple threads.

Remember to change your needles to match your current project and/or every 8-12 hours of sewing time. If you hear a popping sound when you stitch, your needle point is damaged and you will damage the fabric if you continue to use it. Shredding of your thread is usually due to using the whole size or type of needle or a damaged one. Change the needle.

Up Next: Tension

Monday, May 16, 2011

Thread Tips and Tricks

A few days ago I gave a talk to my Fiber Frenzy group about thread. I told them that I have had a love affair with thread since the 70's. I have quite a large collection composed of various brands, fibers and weights. I ended the talk after about an hour but there is always more to say. Following are some tips about using thread:

Never moisten the end of your thread before threading the needle. The fibers will expand and make it more difficult. Instead moisten the eye of the needle and it will encourage the thread to pass through.

Cut your thread at an angle instead of a straight cut. This will make threading the needle easier.

If it is difficult to see the eye of the needle when threading, place a piece of white paper behind the needle and it will be easier to see the hole.

When threading the needle with a thread that is hard to see like monofilament nylon or polyester, try darkening the tip of the thread with a black felt tip pen.

Jinny Beyer recommends not using white thread for piecing unless you are sewing a piece of white fabric to another piece of white fabric. Use thread to match the color of the darker piece of fabric. That way your stitches are less likely to show.

When choosing a thread color to match your fabric, choose one shade darker because the thread will look lighter after it is sewn.

When sewing with thread that is stacked (horizontally wound rather than cross-wound), it will probably perform better if the thread is winding off of the back of the spool on a vertical spindle.

Using a 12 inch length of thread, thread through the eye of the needle and hold thread vertical and taut. Spin the needle from the top and if it does not slip down the length of the thread, you need to use a larger needle or a needle with a larger eye such as a topstitch needle.

May all of your sewing be problem free!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Honor those UFO's (and I don't mean unidentified flying objects)

I am determined to finish some of my UFO's. Now I realize that not all unfinished projects need to be completed. Some projects are only samples or practice pieces to try a new technique or color combination while others just don't satisfy our creative muse. Nonetheless I plan to quilt two completed quilt tops this summer. One of the tops is an I Spy quilt that will be fun for my grandchildren to play with when they come to visit. The other quilt is my interpretation of an Amish square in a square.

I was rather nonplused to discover that neither quilt met my normal standards. How could this be? I don't do such a poor job of cutting, piecing and pressing. When were these quilts made? Could it possibly be ten years ago or more? I proceeded to layer and spray baste them along with a third recently completed top while contemplating my surprise. I will find a use for these poorly constructed quilts while rejoicing in the knowledge that I have come a long way in the past ten years toward perfecting my quilting skills. I challenge all of you to get out your UFO's to see how far your skills have progressed.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Reflections on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War

On April 12, 1861 the first shots of the Civil War were fired on Fort Sumter. A long, bloody war ensued and in some ways we are still fighting a civil war today although it seems to be more between political parties than parts of our country.

Reflecting upon what the war meant to southerners and northerners at that time, I was reminded of a book that I read this past year. It was called  "The Lost Quilter" by Jennifer Chiaverini. It is the fourteenth book in a series called Elm Creek Quilts and features a group of quilters who run a quilt retreat. They find an old stack of letters relating the story of their stop on the Underground Railroad (as told in "The Runaway Quilt"). Joanna, one of the runaway slaves, was recaptured and returned to Virginia in 1859 and then relocated to Charleston, South Carolina. The Lost Quilter is her story as a slave. I have read about slavery before but nothing has touched me as deeply as this story told by a woman whose every waking moment was controlled by others. When you go to bed and arise, what and when you eat, what work you do and where and how and when, who you can marry, if you can marry, where you live and with whom. Husbands are separated from wives, parents from children, and children from siblings at the whim of a master. A powerful and brutal narrative told in the first person gives us a glimpse of the greatest stain on the history of the United States. I felt as though I was living the life of a slave throughout every page of the book. And lest we not forget, there are still parts of the world where slavery exists today.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Creative Anxiety

     Being afraid to proceed with the next step in a project is a frequent occurrence among my friends and myself.  But what if I ruin it? is a common  lament. I recently listened to a podcast of Creative Mojo with Mark Lipinki on (March 16, 2011 show) in which Eric Maisel was a guest. Eric is a creativity coach and psychotherapist ( Eric's latest book is: Mastering Creative Anxiety.

     Creativity requires one choice after another ( red or blue? border or not? embellish? quilting motif ? ?????)  and choosing promotes anxiety.  We must learn to embrace the anxiety and not try to avoid it or our creativity will be stifled. We buy good materials to make our art and then the feeling of trying to make something excellent promotes anxiety. We need to use both physical and cognitive strategies to cope with our anxiety. Deep breathing cleansing breaths helps physically and the use of affirmations helps cognitively. The book contains 24 lessons to overcome the paralyzing fear that leads to inaction. 
     Another one of the reasons that we accumulate a stack of UFO's is because of the fear of putting it out into the world and incurring criticism. I plan to download this book onto my Kindle and I promise that my stack of UFO's will get a bit smaller in the next few months.

     Want to join me in conquering the anxiety?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Dinner at Agave

Saturday night we celebrated birthdays. Keith and Melisa were born 2 days and one year apart. Keith on April 24 and Melisa on April 26. We went to Agave in Cabbagetown for dinner. It is located in the Cotton Mill General Store and has been named the Best Southwestern Restaurant in Atlanta. Everything was delicious from the Margaritas and quesadilla appetizers to the dessert platter. More on that later.

The special was flounder and was chosen by Cliff and Melisa. I opted for the  Red Pepper Salmon Filet ...(Pan seared fresh Chilean salmon with sauteed  julienne zucchini, squash, & carrots, served over a roasted red pepper sauce with grilled asparagus) which was cooked to perfection.

Keith, the steak lover since childhood, (He ate his way across Canada and through Alaska at the age of 8 on steak.) had

Tenderloin Medallions ...Fresh tenderloin filet sliced and pan-seared over a roasted tomato, garlic & chile tequila puree, accompanied by Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, fried cayenne onions and grilled zucchini

There were six choices for dessert including flan, chocolate mousse, key lime pie, peanut butter pie, cheesecake and a flourless chocolate cake. How to choose ..... normally Cliff and I share a dessert and so do Keith and Melisa and the kids have ice cream. Well, Agave has a seventh selection: a dessert platter with 6 full size portions of all six desserts for less money than buying each one individually. Amazing!!!! We opted for the platter and everyone had a taste of everything and voted for their favorite. Key lime pie won the contest - just fabulous.

I know that I sound like a commercial for Agave but I promise that I have no affiliation with them. Just a very happy and contented customer.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Say goodbye to Sandy

Our Silver Sneakers instructor, Sandy Dickens, is moving to Florida so we had a potluck luncheon for her today. I made a quilt for her which consisted of four photos which I manipulated in photo shop. The four photos depict the type of chair that we use for some of our exercises (mostly stretches) and the 3 pieces of equipment that we use: free weights, ball, and stretch bands. I hope that she likes it.