Tools & Toys Tuesday: Use Drawing Apps to Trial Quilting Patterns

Here’s another little tip that isn’t just for our quilt-along, but this seems like a perfect time to share it: when I’m considering how I’ll quilt a new project, I like to trial quilting patterns by doodling over a photo in a drawing app – instant quilting test without sewing a stitch!

I’m currently using Aviary on my iPad with a stylus for drawing – I take a photo of my quilt top, then use a fine line in an unobtrusive color (usually a light gray, but it depends on the quilt) and just doodle away. It’s a great way to try out different ideas and experiment. Here’s three basic options for my orange peels, just to show you what I mean:

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I’m also playing with the idea of free motion quilting in the spaces between peels, which would be great FMQ practice. But I usually like a minimalist quilting approach best, so I’ll probably doodle a million ideas and then go with one of the straight line options above. I’m so predictable that way. :)

OPQA: Quilt Basting Tutorial

I’m calling this post part of the Orange Peel Quilt-along, but really it’s just a general quilting tutorial / post about how I baste quilts. I’m sure other people do this differently, and I’m sure this isn’t necessarily the best way ever – it’s just how I do it in my particular basting environment.

(Note: this post contains the worst photos evar. I’m not even worrying about it. It’s been dark and gray for weeks now, and this room never gets good light even on a good day – and anyway, basting is not a pretty process, it’s just something we live through.)

Ok, so let’s get this out of the way: I. Hate. Basting. It’s the worst process in the universe. It’s boring. And tedious. And kind of painful. And it takes hours. We’re all grown-ups here, I’m not going to pretend this is fun.

But we gotta do it. We just buckle down and power through it – put on some great music or a funny movie, or sucker a friend into helping, and try to get it done as quickly as possible. Together we can get through this. Ready?

**WAIT! Before you do anything, make sure your backing, batting and quilt top are pressed nice and flat. Good. Now go.**

First, clear a big space – bigger than your quilt by as much as possible all the way around:

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As you can see, in my house, this means shoving all the furniture as far back as possible.

Then lay your backing, right side down, nice and flat on the floor:

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I like to use my long and skinny quilting ruler to help smooth things out:

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Now take a roll of tape – I’m using blue painter’s tape – and working around your quilt, tape it to the floor:

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I work by taping opposites all around – first the middle of one side, then the opposite middle. Then the left of that side, followed by the right of the opposite side – make sense? It’s awesome if you have a buddy for this part, you can stand on opposite sides of your backing and toss the tape back and forth – much quicker than going back and forth by yourself.

You want your backing to be smooth and taut, but not stretched. This is tricksy to learn, and it took me several quilts to get used to the feel I was going for. I tend to stick a length of tape (anywhere from 6″ – 12″) to the fabric, then gently pull it just slightly towards me before sticking it to the floor:

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This is what you should end up with (the blank spots here are clear tape I put down before I realized you couldn’t see them in a photo :) ):

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My quilt back is uneven, but I’ll trim that after everything’s pinned.

Then lay your batting down and smooth it over your backing. Batting is like a freaky velcro – at least cotton and cotton blends, I can’t speak for other types – and won’t need to be taped. It’ll just stay put, which is very helpful of it, doncha think? Smooth it nice and flat – not stretched! Again, I like to use my ruler:

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Then lay your quilt top down over the batting, with at least a few inches to spare around each side. If you have a pieced backing, you may want to be careful about positioning – check that your top is straight against any seams your backing has. My backing and batting were much larger than my top, so I positioned my top the way I wanted and will trim the excess after everything’s pinned. Smooth the top same as your other layers. The batting, again, will keep everything nice and flat once you get it that way.

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We’re almost ready to pin, but first, your cat will come and make sure everything’s nice and smooth:

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Ah, thanks, Oscar.

Now we pin! You’ll need a buttload of those curved basting pins, though of course there are other methods – hand basting, basting guns, basting spray, etc. This is just how I roll.

If you know how you’ll quilt, you can position your pins accordingly. I’m not sure yet, so I’ll just place one in the middle of each peel, and one at each block intersection. That’ll keep things nice and secure – they’re about 3″-4″ apart:

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When it’s all pinned, I cut away the excess fabric and batting, a few inches around my top, and then lift it all off the floor. Your back is probably aching and you may want to poke some of those damn curved pins into your eyes, but it’s done now. You made it. I’m proud of you.

And woohoo! Now you’re ready to quilt!

OPQA: Peels Top Finished!

Hurrah! The top is finished!

OPQA: Finished Top

I love it SO MUCH!!! I can’t believe this top is finally done, after so many thousand tiny appliqué stitches – totally, totally worth the effort though, dontcha think?!

OPQA: Finished Top

OPQA: Finished Top

Now I have to piece backing – I have about three and a half meters of some Lizzy House Catnap deliciousness, which I bought for a great price at the Festival of Quilts last summer, but I need four. So I’ll piece in a couple of fat quarters to make up the difference, and you’ll see that, plus basting, soon enough!

OPQA: Finished Top

OPQA: Tips for Assembling The Top!

Orange Peel Quilt-Along!

Hey, remaining quilt-alongers! How are you doing with your quilt tops??? I’m sorry I left you hanging for a while – we had another loss at Christmastime when our gorgeous and funny Mr. Winston got suddenly very sick and then passed away. Sigh. I miss him so much.

So I didn’t get much / any peel stitching done over the holidays, and since then I’ve been trying to catch up. I’ve now finished hand-stitching ALL ONE-HUNDRED-AND-NINETY-SIX PEELS. Yeah, boi. And you know what? I totally miss them. I’ve gotten so used to them as my evening project, I don’t quite know what to do with myself now! I’ll catch up on some knitting projects I’ve been wanting to do, but then I have another idea for a hand-stitching project – but more on that in time.

Anyway, so my peels are all stitched, and trimmed (oh, the humanity. That was definitely the crummy part of this project – though I didn’t help myself by powering through it and trimming them all in two afternoons):

OPQA: Tips

(The photos in this post are mostly from Instagram, where I’ve been posting as I work, with a few unedited ones in between. I’m sorry they’re not the best, but I’ve been sewing at night and taking quick snaps as I go.)

Now I’m working on assembling the top, and as I work, I’ve noticed a few things that might be helpful to share, for anyone still to assemble theirs. This is how I’ve gone about mine:

First, I laid out piles on the table, based on peel fabric. (You could do it with background fabric too, I suppose, it depends on your selection, really.)

OPQA Tips

From those piles, I made pairs of peels, as randomly as I could, trying not to repeat pairs too often and keeping directionality of print in mind (where applicable). Once I had a massive stack of pairs, I chain pieced them, which saves both time and thread. If you aren’t familiar with chain piecing, it just means you feed one pair of fabrics in one after the other, without removing the fabric or trimming the thread. They will be all sewn together in a ‘chain’ when you’ve finished, then you can clip them apart. It’s pretty awesome.

One note about sewing your peels: I don’t have a walking foot on my Featherweight and sometimes she wanted to swerve around the peel corner bumps (this will totally make sense when you sew them, I swear), making my seam wonky. If you have a walking foot on your machine, this probably won’t be a problem. To adjust for this with Bettie, I raised the foot pressure just a touch, and added a little pressure from the side as I got to that point in each block –

OPQA Tips

- to make sure she took that little step up over the thicker area. Again, I know this won’t make so much sense now, but I’m sure it will once you start joining your peels.

When I had a stack of peel pairs, I divided them into pairs containing a directional print, and pairs without. This might not be an issue for your fabrics, but I had quite a few that would look silly upside down. I matched directional pairs (right, below) to non-directional pairs (left):

OPQA Tips

And then set the pairs aside with a pin in them. Once I had a stack of matched pairs (aka soon-to-be ring blocks), I pressed the seams of each match like so: seam of top pair pressed to the right, seam of top pair pressed to the left. Then chain pieced those pairs, same as before …

OPQA Tips

… which left me with a stack of ring blocks!

At that point, I could have finally laid them all out and placed them just so, but two things stopped me. First, I would seriously have to move a lot of furniture to lay out a top this big – I wan’t prepared to do that last night, but I wanted to keep sewing!

Second, I wondered what I would really gain by nitpicking over the layout at that level. Yeah, I might’ve made it perfect – but I’m trying to question what ‘perfect’ really means in this context. Who says a layout obsessed over will really end up more ‘perfect’ than a random one? Maybe it’ll be exactly the same. Or maybe it’ll look overworked and less interesting! Mom was always trying to teach me this, but I think it’s just something that has to come on its own with your own confidence in your craft. But that’s probably a post for another day – the point is, I decided to just wing it and see what happens! Of course, my quilt is so large, it’d be so difficult to really fine-tune so many peels into a ‘perfect’ layout. It was always going to be pretty random. And I only have two colors, so I don’t need to worry about creating a balance in that way – depending on your fabrics and quilt size, you may really need to have a look before you start putting them together.

OPQA Tips

Anyway, so now I’m putting together quadruple-ring-blocks. :) Then I’ll lay them out. I ordered my batting from Doughty’s today, so that should get here just as I’m finishing up. I’ll share more about how I baste quilts as soon as I get there!

How’s your quilt going? These are just tips and whatnot, so I won’t add a link-up, but let us know in the comments!

Wool And The Gang Lovisa Mitts

Wool & The Gang Mitts

About a million years ago, Wool And The Gang, a London-based yarn and knitwear company, contacted me about trying out some of their yarn. Yum! Yes, please! But as you know, I’ve been through a pretty crummy time over the last few months, and the timing of the yarn arriving to me was the worst you could possibly imagine. I decided what I wanted to knit almost immediately, but I just wasn’t able to get my mind properly into a knitting pattern.

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Until one day a few weeks ago when I picked up my half-heartedly begun pair of Lovisa Armwarmers, sorted out some minor sizing issues I hadn’t had the brain power to deal with, and knocked them out in a couple of days. Suddenly, the time for comfort knitting had arrived – I’ve done and planned more projects in the last few weeks than I have in a year. Knitting has always been my comfort craft, but distraction crafts have been better for me this year. I’m really glad knitting is back for me now, I missed it.

Wool & The Gang Mitts

So anyway. Wool And The Gang were kind enough to send me out two colors (Snow White and Space Black) of their Sugar Baby Alpaca, so that I could give it a go with some colorwork knitting. You know how I love colorwork, don’t you? I’m always on the lookout for yarns that knit colorwork well but give a drapey, snuggly fabric. Colorwork can often be more pretty, less cuddly, on account of the rustic yarns traditionally used. A sportweight baby alpaca seemed like a perfect one to try out.

Wool & The Gang Mitts

Full disclosure and all: you know Wool And The Gang sent me this yarn for free, to review, and I promise I’d tell you if I hated it – scout’s honor. But oh the yummy! The Sugar Baby Alpaca knit like butter, such a pleasure to play with, and made such a delicious soft fabric. I used 4mm needles for these Lovisa Mitts (pattern by Sarah Pope, available free on Ravelry), which have been in my queue foreeeeeever, and added an extra 4-stitch repeat to make them slouchier on my sadly not-thin arms. Alpaca is so perfect for something slouchy like this, it just sits on my wrists like a scrumptious alpaca puddle. NOM.

Wool & The Gang Mitts

I added these cutesy-pie vintage buttons (eep, tiny hearts!) and I love these mitts to pieces! (They look perfect with my new winter coat too, as an added bonus.) I’m really in love with the yarn – thanks so much for letting me try it out, Wool And The Gang! – and I already have a possible pattern idea for it. I haven’t written a knitting pattern in ages, but there’s something a-brewin’ in my head!

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