Monday, February 27, 2017

Quiltmaking 101 -- binding your quilt 3 -- folding and stitching the binding

Take your quilt to an ironing surface and lay it face up.  Press the binding out toward the edges of the quilt, admiring how neatly the corners have mitered.  You can't press the binding out beyond the corner, because it isn't long enough to lie flat, so just do the part over the quilt with the tip of your iron.  Or you can just finger-press the binding outward.

Now flip the quilt over face down onto a work surface so you can work along a top edge.  Start in the middle of a side -- we'll do the easy part first before tackling the tricky corners.  Pull the binding over the edge and toward you, pulling as taut as you can.  Fold the binding in two, with the cut edge right up against the cut edge of the quilt, then fold the edge down to just barely cover the stitching line.  If for some reason it isn't wide enough to cover the stitching line, you can ease the fold out a bit; at this point it's more important to cover the stitching line than to extend the binding all the way to the edge on the inside.

Pin the binding in place, every two or three inches.  Work out to the right and left, stopping about three inches from the corners.

Place one corner of the quilt on your work surface, facing top right.  You're confronting a section of binding that kind of stands upright as it turns the corner, because it's not long enough to lie flat.  That's good, because you now have to fold all that extra fabric in at the corner, and the less you have to deal with, the less bulk you'll have at the corner.

On either side of the corner you have already established a final folded width for the binding, and you are now going to finger-press that fold line all the way around the corner.

Once it's creased inward, pin the right-hand side of the binding up toward the corner.  When you get to the corner, take a sturdy needle and use it to push the rest of the binding all the way up to the top edge of the quilt.  Simultaneously, make sure you are pulling the binding as taut as you can around the right-hand edge of the quilt.  Pin the binding in place as close as you can to the edge.

Now fold the top part of the binding down over the needle.  Because you have creased the foldline into the binding, it should stay in place pretty well.  Pin that down quite close to the corner.

Check the corner of the quilt, front and back.

On the front, the diagonal miter should come out of the corner of the seam and go exactly to the corner of the quilt.  The binding should fold over to the back and lie flat, with no bubble at the corner.  If there's a bubble, unpin the bindings and pull the right-hand edge even tauter around the cut edge of the quilt, while urging the top binding to fold down flat.

After you have all four corners mitered and pinned, you can stitch the binding to the quilt.  If you sew by hand, work from the back and stitch through only the backing layer so your stitches aren't visible from the top of the quilt.  If you sew by machine, it's hard to keep a straight stitch exactly on the edge of the binding, both front and back.  But a zigzag stitch camouflages any slight differences in binding width and looks great from both sides.  I like to stitch from the front side of the quilt, centering the zigzag just a bit inside the seamline (closer toward the edge of the quilt).

Sewing the binding with a zigzag stitch -- front of the quilt

Sewing the binding with a zigzag stitch -- back of the quilt

Sunday, February 26, 2017

My favorite things 9

In 2010 I spent a week in Japan thanks to the publishing company Nihon Vogue, which sponsors the Quilts Japan Prize, which I won at Quilt National '09.  I was fortunate to spend four wonderful days in Tokyo doing arty and quilty things, and then hook up with my sister-in-law for three equally wonderful days in Kyoto.

I am not a souvenir person; I'm usually perfectly happy with an envelope full of paper ephemera -- the ticket stubs, restaurant menus, foreign-language newspapers and beer coasters that you acquire in your travels.  I might buy some postcards but usually my customs declaration totals less than $25.  (I've had suspicious immigration officials brace me on that, because no women are capable of spending that little in a month away...)

But in Kyoto I couldn't resist.  I bought some silk, mostly scraps from kimono fabrics, for maybe 50 cents each.  I bought some cute little doodads for Zoe to hang from her cellphone (all the rage among Japanese teenagers).  And I bought these four soup bowls.  I love them all, and I generally use whichever one is on top of the stack, but if they're all in use I'll probably give the radiating stripes to myself.

The Japanese don't go for matchy-matchy housewares; it's customary to use not only dishes of different designs, like mine, at the same meal, but dishes of different shapes, sizes and styles to complement various foods.  Many observers attribute this to the wabi sabi mindset, in which imperfection is considered beautiful.  So you mend your old clothes and broken dishes, you accept your wrinkles and age spots, you don't mind if the spoon is bent or the plate is chipped, and you downright love it if the soup bowls all have different designs.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Quiltmaking 101 -- binding your quilt 2 -- sewing the binding

Time to sew the binding to the quilt.  I use a walking foot, because the three layers of the quilt can shift under the pressure of a regular foot, even after they have been quilted together.

Place one end of the binding strip about halfway down one of the edges of the quilt, aligning it with the cut edge, but don't start sewing right at the end.  Instead, leave about six inches of strip hanging loose before you start sewing.  Sew at your predetermined seam allowance till you get almost to the corner.

Stop your stitching exactly one seam allowance from the corner.  Make a back stitch or two to hold the strip in place.

Cut the threads and take the quilt out from the machine.  Rotate it 90 degrees counterclockwise and place it on your work table with the edge you've sewed at the top, and the new edge straight ahead of you.

My finger hides the edge that has just been stitched.

Fold the binding strip up and away from you.  The right edge of the binding strip aligns with the cut edge of the quilt (that's why you place it right ahead of your nose, so you can eyeball the straight line).  Pull the strip taut so the diagonal fold line comes through the end of your stitching.  Press the diagonal fold with your thumbnail to help it keep its place.

Now fold the binding strip back on itself, exactly at the cut edge.  Align the fold with the top edge of the quilt, and align the edge of the binding with the side edge of the quilt.  The diagonal fold should end exactly at the corner of the quilt.  Put a pin through all layers, about a half-inch from the edge.

Back to the sewing machine; start sewing at the edge of the quilt and stitch the binding strip almost all the way to the next corner.  Repeat the mitered corner.  Twice more, and you'll get back to the side of the quilt that you started on.  Stop sewing about eight inches before you get to your starting point, cut the threads and take the quilt out from the machine.

You have about six inches of binding hanging loose from the beginning, plus whatever is left of the strip you have been sewing.  You now have to join those two ends at exactly the right place so the finished binding won't be either too long or too short.  You are going to sew those two ends together, which means you'll need a quarter-inch seam allowance on each end, which means your strip has to be a half-inch longer than the finished length.  So let's build in that half-inch right now.

Fold back one of the strips (doesn't matter which one) right at the end of the stitched part.  Put a quarter-inch tuck in it, and pin that in place.  There's your extra half-inch, ready for when you need it.

Arrange the two loose ends of the binding smoothly on top of one another and cut through both strips with one snip of the scissors.  (Don't cut the quilt top or any other fabric that might have sneaked in between the blades.)  Hold the scissors at an angle, or perpendicular, whichever way you did the other seams on the binding.

Here the two ends meet exactly at the snip line.  When you remove that pin tuck, you'll have the extra half-inch seam allowance to sew the two ends together.

But this seam is going to be tricky, because you need some extra room to maneuver, and the big quilt wants to spring loose and lie flat.  So make it give you the room you need -- pin a two- or three-inch fold into the part of the quilt that hasn't yet gotten its binding.

Notice the blue pin holding the big fold into the quilt, to give you slack to work with.

Pin the ends of the binding together, just as you joined the other binding strips.  Manhandle the quilt into place so you can sew the seam.  Make sure the weight of the quilt is well supported so it doesn't pull away or spring loose as you stitch.

When you take the quilt out from the machine, unpin the big fold, and lay it flat, the binding should be exactly as long as you need it.  In fact, it should be just a hair shorter, because the fabric will stretch a bit and the seam will lie perfectly flat.

If the binding is even a bit too long, DO NOT plan to ease it in as you stitch, because you'll get an ugly bubble and bulge.  Instead, go back to the machine and restitch the seam just a hair inside the previous stitching line.  No need to take out the first seam, just sew alongside it.

With your joined binding lying perfectly flat on the edge of the quilt, go back to the machine and complete the seam, overlapping for a half-inch or so on top of the previous stitching.

Next week:  folding the binding and stitching it in place.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Quiltmaking 101 -- binding your quilt 1 -- cutting the binding

I promised a friend that I would send her a link to my tutorial on mitered bindings -- except after much searching, realized that I apparently never published such a post.  So here's one for Joanne, and anybody else who has the urge...

Before you start sewing on a binding, you need to establish your specifications: how wide to cut your binding strip, and how far from the edge to stitch it on.  Traditionally, bindings are about a quarter-inch wide, but you may want a wider one to make a more assertive edge.  If you want a wider binding, just substitute "one-half inch" wherever you read "one-quarter inch" in these directions.

The old-fashioned quilt police will tell you that the only proper way to make a binding is to cut it on the bias and use it double, so two layers of fabric will protect the edge of the quilt.  I don't do either of those two things.  It's true that when quilts are in daily use, washed regularly, and especially if they're pulled up against a whiskery chin every night, the edges will get abraded and thinned over time.  So two layers of fabric are a good idea, as is a bias cut, so the abrasion doesn't take out an entire thread along the edge and pop the binding open.  But if you're planning on using your quilt lightly, or hanging it on the wall, there's no need for the extra fabric and trouble.  I cut my bindings on the cross grain of the fabric -- perpendicular to the selvage -- for a bit of extra give.

Before you cut your bindings, do a sample.  You can make the sample on your actual quilt (use long stitches, so you can rip them out easily), or if you have a scrap of quilted fabric around -- maybe some that you trimmed off the quilt when you squared it up -- you can use that.

Your binding needs to be cut four times the width of your finished binding, plus a bit for ease -- for a quarter-inch binding you'll want it at least 1 1/4 inches wide.  But for the sample, cut a strip 1 1/2 inches wide, about four inches long.  Place the binding strip on top of your quilt, right sides together.  Align the edge of the binding strip with the edge of the quilt, then sew it on with a quarter-inch seam allowance.

Take the quilt out of the sewing machine and fold the binding into position, wrapping it over the edge and to the back of the quilt.  Fold the binding so the raw edge is turned inside, extending all the way down to the fold.  Pull the binding nice and taut over the edge.  Pin it down in place.  Check the front to make sure the binding is taut there too, with no bubbles or pooching out.

The folded edge of the binding should cover your stitching line, but just a hair.  If it's too wide, and the binding extends an eighth-inch or more past the stitching line, you'll want to cut your strips a bit narrower than 1 1/2 inches.  But if it's not wide enough, and the folded edge doesn't cover the stitching, you'll want to cut the strips a bit wider.  Cut a new sample strip, sew it on and check it.  Then write down the width you want so you don't have to do test samples on your next quilt.

Why do I suggest you make a sample rather than just tell you how wide to cut?  Because your "quarter-inch seam" may not be the same as my "quarter-inch seam."  And that's perfectly OK.  For instance, my  bindings are always a bit wider than a quarter inch, because I like to use the edge of my walking foot as a gauge.  And of course, you might want a wider binding because you like the look.  So figure out your preferred seam spacing, and then work from there to figure out how wide to cut your binding strip.

It's easier for me to gauge my seam width by the little rectangle cut out of the top of my walking foot than to use the grid marks on the presser foot plate (because they're hidden).  So my bindings end up closer to 3/8 inch than 1/4 inch.

The important thing is to cut bindings that work for you.  You want the folded-over edges of the binding to reach down to the edge of the quilt so you have four layers of binding everywhere, you want the binding to be pulled taut around the edge.  That way your bindings will be smooth, firm and fully-packed, good enough for the quilt police.

Now cut the binding strips on the cross-grain (from selvage to selvage).  You'll probably need several strips to reach around the quilt.  You can sew the strips together into one long piece either with straight or with diagonal seams.

To join on the diagonal:

Cut through two strips at once so you have the same angle.  Align the cut edges, but shift them so the seamline begins where the cut edges cross.

Press the seams and the entire binding strip.  I like to press the seams open rather than to one side, because that means a flatter binding, but it doesn't really matter.  Trim the points so they don't extend beyond the edges of the strip.

Friday: how to sew the binding on.

Monday, February 20, 2017

When all else fails, make placemats

In the late 70s I was an active member of the League of Women Voters, and one of the things I did for the organization was to make a little wall quilt for our office.  I used some nifty red-on-white patriotic print fabric that was produced during the Bicentennial, plus assorted RWB solids and prints.  It hung in the office for many years, until a big remodel/redecoration.  I found the quilt stashed in a closet afterwards, and brought it home with me, where it has been stashed in MY closet ever since.

Recently, in a flurry of cleanup frustration, I came upon the quilt and noted that it was big enough to make four placemats.

I've always joked that no quilt experiment is too weird, because you can always turn it into placemats.  Indeed, I've done that with many projects, including one that was supposed to be a show quilt but just wouldn't get quilted right.  I kept quilting (you know, all those bulgy places will quilt out....) (but they didn't quilt out...) and finally gave up at about 98 percent finished.  That one made a whole lot of placemats!

But my little red, white and blue quilt certainly had no future as a quilt.  Notice particularly the pale gray panel above the bottom LWV -- that was once a rich navy blue.  And the faded panel to the left of the middle LWV also used to be navy.  I thought the reds had held up pretty well until I cut the quilt apart and noticed that the solid red was about four shades darker inside.  I think there have been improvements in dye technology since the 70s, but isn't it funny that some of the fabrics faded like crazy and others stayed pristine?

Here are the placemats.  I will use them on patriotic occasions.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

My favorite things 8

I've always loved old-fashioned offices and office equipment, harking back to my earliest days of paid employment when I would work typing my father's book manuscripts and then as a secretary for low-budget organizations that were headquartered at my college.  In all these places I had manual typewriters and a motley collection of tools dating back to World War 2.  And I loved all that stuff.

My mother had a little wood file cabinet with six drawers, enough to store an inch-tall pile of paper in each one so you could keep different kinds of letterhead, plain paper, colored paper, invoices, whatever you needed for your well-stocked office.  The drawers had holes in the bottom so you could poke your finger up and raise the pile of paper high enough to pluck off one sheet without denting the edge.

She had liberated it from some office where she had worked, and it held paper in our home office.  But in later years she converted it to a jewelry case.  I coveted it.

One day, hanging out in a flea market, I was thrilled to find the identical file cabinet for sale, and took it home to be my jewelry case.  And then, after Mom died, I grabbed her cabinet too.  So I now have one in my bedroom full of jewelry and one by the back door with stuff you need as you are running out of the house -- a comb, a Chapstick, sunglasses.  And a few of the bottom drawers still have some of Mom's jewelry.

I've scored other pre-owned file cabinets over the years, but my second favorite is this little one, just tall enough to file your bank statements and electric bills.  It still has a label from its previous owner on the bottom drawer, which says "savings."  I wonder what went in that drawer, and what the top drawer was called.

I feel great sympathy for whoever was in charge of all those cabinets -- probably a woman, who was forever being called on to produce the proper piece of paper at a moment's notice, correctly typed, correctly retrieved.  She had to wash her hands frequently to keep the carbon paper and typewriter-ribbon smudges off her work; she got paper cuts too often.

Not like that in today's offices -- at least not the carbon paper or typewriter ribbons, and maybe not even the pieces of paper -- but I still feel sympathy for the workers.  Been there, done that.  Sometimes not much fun, but always great pride in a job well done, even if the boss doesn't appreciate it or understand how much work it took to make it happen.