Wednesday, March 24, 2021

How to make the aloha shirt block

The other day Marietta left a comment on an old blog post that I had written about my  marathon of making baby quilts for my dear friend Zuki's grandchildren.  Actually, she has been so blessed with grandchildren that I had to do another marathon last summer to catch up.

All of the quilts consist of blocks made by my friend's grandmother, mostly from scraps that her sewing pal brought home from the aloha shirt and muu-muu factory in Hawaii.  And all of the blocks use the same pattern.  I don't know the name of the pattern, and it's tricky to sew because of lots of bias edges, but apparently Zuki's grandma loved it.  She made hundreds of these blocks, in two different sizes, and with a wide variety of tropical prints and some solids.  Here's one of the baby quilts:

Marietta commented: "I am trying to figure out from the photos how you made the block.  It looks like the second triangle added tucks under the first one."

Marietta, you're right, it's not obvious how to put this block together.  It requires a technique called a partial seam, where you start sewing two pieces together but stop before you get to the end.  You come back later to finish the seam after other pieces have been sewed in.  Here's the step-by-step:

Here's the partial seam, at the very beginning of the block.  Arrange the blue piece in place against the yellow center square, but don't stitch all the way.  Press the first inch or two of the seam so you have a nice neat join before you add the next piece.

Sew on the green piece, and press that seam.  Then sew on the pink, and press again.

Now add the lime green piece and press.  Finally, turn down the last flap of the blue and sew the rest of that seam to finish the block.

If you're thinking that's a whole lot of pressing, and wouldn't it be easier to just finger-press and wait till the whole block is done to hit it with the iron, here's some advice: the more you press the better your quilts will look.  I try never to add a new piece until the seam underneath has been properly pressed, with an iron.

If you're still thinking that's a whole lot of pressing, I suggest three possible approaches to make it easier:

1.  Set up a pressing station near your sewing machine so you don't have to get up from your seat.  (I do this whenever I'm making complicated piecing, no matter what the pattern.  I only get up when the sewed-together portion gets bigger than my pressing area and needs to be spread out on the work table for pressing.)

2.  Make a whole set of blocks at once, adding the blue piece to all of them and then pressing all of them on one trip to the ironing board.  This approach is particularly helpful on a tricky block like this one, where it takes a bit of thinking to make sure you've gotten started right.  Having figured out that first seam correctly, make them all before you forget how you did it!

3.  Regard pressing as an exercise program, so every time you get up and walk to the ironing board you're getting in your steps.  Tedious, but you can feel self-righteous about it.


Sunday, March 21, 2021

More about baby afghans

After I posted photos of two babies with their baby afghans, Carolyn left a comment and asked "Do you ever share the stitch for these afghans?"

I certainly do, Carolyn, and I love to spread the word because this stitch is easy, fast and functional.  Easy, because it only involves single crochet and slip stitch.  Fast, because it goes twice as fast as single crochet and uses a large hook.  Functional, because it incorporates a lot of air space into what looks like a solid surface, and thus makes a warm yet light blanket.  And because of all that air, you don't have to worry that the baby will suffocate even if the afghan gets over his face.  I have used this stitch for practically all the afghans I have made in the last 30 years, and that's a lot of afghans.  I never see any need to improve upon success.

I don't know the name of this stitch, although it probably had one when I first learned it.  After you make a foundation of chain stitch, you turn and come back by making one single crochet into the chain, two stitches back, then a slip stitch, then skipping a chain before inserting your hook into the second chain stitch.  In effect, you're making a series of empty squares as you come back across the width of the afghan.

When you get to the end of that first row, make two slip stitches, turn the work around and do the same thing coming back -- a single crochet into the single crochet in the row beneath, a slip stitch, skip a stitch and insert the hook into the top of the single crochet in the row beneath.  

Make a single crochet

Make a slip stitch

Skip one stitch and insert into the next stitch

Always stitch into the little Vs (single crochet in row below)
Sometimes I use a single strand of yarn, as in Baby Eleanor's afghan, and sometimes I hold two strands together for a fatter, warmer fabric, as in Baby Julian's.  That's what I'm doing in these photos, where you can see up close what a fat, firm, sturdy fabric is being made.

I often use one strand of white and one of a solid color, as in Baby Julian's, and you can get a particularly nice effect with two strands of variegated yarn, especially if you use different colorways.

I use big hooks, Boye brand only, size N with two strands of yarn, or maybe K with one strand.  I use worsted weight, even for babies, because it's tough enough to hold up in the washing machine and it works up quickly.  Baby or sport yarns are thinner and you would need to use a much smaller hook and thus make lots more stitches.  But I will use thinner yarns sometimes as the second strand with a worsted weight main yarn, as in the photos here.

One last piece of advice: make your foundation chain quite loose, so loose it looks kind of sloppy as you start to work.  For some reason this pattern stitch takes up more of the slack in your foundation chain than happens with other stitches I've used.  If you don't leave plenty of slack to begin with, your afghan may end up one or two inches shorter along the bottom edge than it is the rest of the way, as if a cord got pulled tight to gather the edge in.  Not fatal, but not beautiful.  Ask me how I know.


Thursday, March 18, 2021

Baby afghans -- complete with babies

For years I've been crocheting baby afghans by the dozens, the perfect handwork to pick up in the TV room or while visiting with company, or to take along to meetings.  Mindless enough to not interfere with conversation or concentration, small enough to work on your lap, yet as the hours go by you crank out a lot of product!  I have a pile of baby afghans at the ready to give away, and in the last couple of months handed out three of them.

One was to somebody on the neighborhood email list who was collecting stuff for a new mother whose apartment had burned.  I left the afghan in a bag on my front porch and she picked it up, to go to the nameless baby.  I felt good about the gift, and got a nice thank-you, but it's always better with actual proof that the baby likes his present!  

One went to a woman in my drawing/critique group, which hasn't met since lockdown, but she sent out an email when her first grandchild was born on Valentine's Day,  So of course she needed an afghan for Baby Julian.  (The afghan is folded in half in the photo, so plenty big to cover him up when he grows.)

The other went to a friend who came over for a drink on the deck in one of the unexpectedly warm afternoons in December.  (It wasn't all that warm, but we wore jackets and pretended.)  He mentioned that his niece was expecting a little girl soon.  I went into the TV room, rooted through the pile of finished afghans, and found nothing pink, but decided she could start life as a feminist and be bold.

And I just got a photo from the proud grand-uncle, of Baby Eleanor with her afghan.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Trying something new

I went to the art supply store last week for the first time since pandemic, and came home with, among other stuff, a dozen wood painting panels.  I wanted to try for a new series that would have a lot of painting, plus collage of pages and covers of old books.  Mounting everything on wood panels would give them some heft and finish, so I could easily display them.

As I started to work I was immediately reminded that when you use paint, glue and medium, you have to wait for things to dry.  So my work area became a field of gold, waiting for next steps.  And with lots of bits and pieces auditioning for where they will end up.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Mystery stitching -- did you do it?

Dabbling in the never-ending task of trying to clean out and organize my studio, I came upon a bag of hand stitching.  One piece I recognized as my own, from several years back, but three others were a total mystery.  On two of them I thought the base fabric looked somewhat familiar, from the days when I was using black walnuts for home-made dye, but the stitching was definitely not mine.

Very nice, but definitely not mine.  See details below.

I wrote two friends with whom I had loose collaborative agreements to do hand stitching together, and asked them whether they were the artists and if so, did they want the pieces back.  Neither one recognized any of the work.

So I'll ask everybody out there -- are you the mystery stitcher?  If so, (1) why is your work in a bag in my studio? and (2) do you want it back?

Thursday, March 4, 2021

A year of work

More than a year ago I saw photos in the newspaper of people lining up to vote in the New Hampshire primary, the first election of what was obviously going to be a big election year.  Since I am an election junkie, and absolutely love everything about voting, I had the idea to cut out the pictures and use them in a big artist book.  Soon the rules for this project became clear: I would collect every photo of people voting in 2020 that was published in either the New York Times or the Courier-Journal, the two papers that we receive every day.  

Eventually I realized that sometimes voting pictures were back-to-back on the same piece of paper, in which case I would try to choose the better photo.  Once when the NYT published a whole Sunday magazine worth of pictures of people voting and counting ballots, I was lucky to get a second copy of the magazine from a friend so I could use both sides of the pages.

Several months later I decided I better start assembling the actual book.  The pictures were piling up, and I wasn't sure how to display them.  Simply pasting them into a scrapbook seemed kind of lame -- a book, yes, but not an artist book.  And it looked like there were going to be a LOT of pictures, so how big a scrapbook to buy?  And in the midst of pandemic, I didn't even want to go to the store.

Then an inspiration.  When I retired 20 years ago I brought home with me a lot of obsolete office supplies that I knew would just be thrown out when I left.  One of these was a big stack of continuous feed printer paper (you show your age if you remember when printers had sprockets on either side to pull the paper through, and after printing you had to tear off the side strips and separate the pages).  And I decided not to use glue stick to put the pictures into the "book," but sew them in.  

Time passed and every now and then through the summer I would spend a few hours sewing pictures into the book.  It seemed to be an appropriate activity for pandemic lockdown -- every day something new to add to the pile, no end in sight.  I fine-tuned the definition of what would go in the book a few times -- people voting, of course.  People standing in line to vote, yes.  People waving campaign signs outside the polls, no.  As pandemic made many states expand their mail voting, I expanded my definition to include people mailing ballots, people collecting ballots from mailboxes, post office trays of ballots being sorted or delivered.

I had envisioned that the project would end on November 4 or 5, but that didn't happen -- every day were more pictures of people counting ballots.  Earlier in the year I had decided that counting ballots was fair game for the book, and there were plenty of those as November wore on.  But people protesting the ballot counting, no.  Then there were lots of photos of electors voting on December 14.

And even then, the election wasn't over!!  I debated with myself and decided that the Georgia Senate runoff elections were part of the 2020 voting, so I cut out those pictures as well.

And finally yesterday afternoon I sewed the last photo into the book!  Here my husband is looking through the book.  You can see the red thread that sews everything in, with hanging ends where I had to start and stop.

PS two hours later I found a newspaper on my pile from a couple of days ago with a photo of people voting, accompanying a story about the Supreme Court taking up a voting rights case.  Sure enough, they were voting in the 2020 election, which meant that picture should technically be in the book.  And yet my last page was so pretty, so carefully chosen -- I didn't want to make a new last page with a quite ordinary picture. Should I go back and try to find a place to sew it in, on an earlier page, or should I forget about it, since the book was already finished when I found it?  I will think about that for a while.  

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Updated at last

It's been way too long since my website was updated, but as of today you can see the new, improved me at!    

Updating one's public image is a task requiring much thought, followed by much scrabbling around to find the right images and write the right text.  Quilts that seemed important several years ago look out-of-date or even juvenile.  Adorable remarks about oneself look embarrassing.  Entire new bodies of work have appeared and need to be categorized. 

"Pink Specs," in the new 3-D gallery

The biggest change in my website has been to include a lot of stuff that is not quilts.  I added new galleries about hand stitching, collage and three-dimensional work.  I wrote more about my daily art practice, and improved the labels on my daily art blog so people could link from the website and find, for instance, all my calligraphy from 2019 to date in the same place.  

I added a gallery about writing and teaching, added my recent new offerings for individual long-distance mentoring, and realized that I should update everything on this blog as well to reflect which workshops are too hands-on to be taught during pandemic.  (No heads close together to get the needle  right in Magic Cross Stitch, but now I have a detailed tutorial so you can learn it at home.)

I should give a shout-out to Holly Knott, the web designer who did all the heavy lifting for me.  I've known about her for many years; we used to be on the same quilting email forums, and a whole lot of quilters have turned to her for website development.  In fact, I recommended her to my local fiber and textile art group before I ever hired her myself.  She's great, and if your website needs an uplift, she might be just the one to help with the plastic surgery.

So if you have a few minutes to kill, why don't you give the new me a visit and see what you think!