Monday, October 18, 2010

A Common Thread?

Have you ever really looked at thread and thought about what it does?  I hadn't - at least until tonight, when I was getting started on this post.  You see, I had intended to write about my weekend, and still will, but my thoughts have taken a totally different slant because of thread.

We often use the phrase, "a common thread" to mean that something is joined with something else or has something in common with something else.  One thing is tied to another, so to speak.

A single strand of thread is so thin that you can sometimes barely see it.  Especially when trying to thread a needle!  But that same slender thread can combine with cloth to create seams for items to wear, blankets to warm, gifts to bring joy, decorations to bring beauty.  A strand of thread can bring strength; it can cover rough edges and stop raveling; it can repair.  

What is it about that tiny little thread that so many of us find so comforting?  The act of drawing thread through fabric, something so simple and yet universally known, brings to mind home and hearth, wistful images of a simpler time, a child's first exploration into creating something from a scrap of fabric.  We may think of our mothers making a dress for us to wear to school, or our grandmothers stitching a quilt together.  Sewing, the drawing of a needle and thread through fabric, even if only in the mind, creates.  And as it creates, it can also bring together.

During pioneer times, there were quilting bees.  Women working together with needles and thread to create quilts to ward of winter's chill.  Today we can buy warm blankets so there is no real need to quilt in order to stay warm.  But we are still drawn to that act of pulling needle and thread through fabric.  It could be that we sew for the love of creating.  It could be that we sew to keep our minds busy, because sewing is not a mindless task!  Sewing can be a type of therapy when one needs to stay busy.  And that needle and thread can draw women from different walks of life together to teach, to learn, to discover that common seam.

I am usually a loner.  Go to work, go home, do it all over again.  And most of the creative things that I do are self-taught.  But this past weekend, I decided to take a short class on making a faux cathedral window quilt block.  Years ago when my children were small, I made some cathedral window blocks, but the idea of taking a class was appealing to me.  So off to Murphy I went on Saturday morning, Marie and fabric in tow, to learn how to make these blocks.  I had it in my mind to make a table runner to put on my table at Christmas.  IF, that is, I manage to clear the table of all the sewing paraphernalia that hasn't made it to the sewing room yet!

Betsy, the lady who taught the class, was bubbly and upbeat and immediately put me at ease.  I had almost talked myself out of showing up for the class because I don't quilt.  I make clothes - so sometimes they don't fit, but that's what I do.  All this talk of fussy cuts, stitch in the ditch, fat quarters - that's like talking Greek to me, even though I've been looking at it on the internet for a while now.  But Betsy soon had me stitching away, both of us talking 90 to nothing.  Other women drifted in and out of the classroom swapping little snippets of sewing experiences.  The class, scheduled to last 3 hours, passed more quickly than I would ever have thought.  

I plan to take my cathedral window blocks to Atlanta with me tomorrow.  Knowing that they will be waiting in the hotel room at the end of the day will help keep me from being homesick this week while I am at a workshop.  And the thought occurs to me that I came away from my quilting class with more than 9 quilt blocks.  I met a wonderful lady whose path I may never have crossed had it not been for the love of a slender little piece of thread.  As a matter of fact, I was so inspired by those 9 blocks that I made a notepad holder this weekend to take with me tomorrow as well.  And it's quilted!  Ok, somewhat quilted.  Patterns are like recipes - I can never leave them alone!  So I added a layer of batting and did a little stitching in the ditch!  Betsy, I think you've created a monster!  Ha!

Two of my cathedral window blocks before the final stitching
A close-up shot of one of my blocks before finishing
This is the open view of the back of my notepad holder

The closed view of my notepad holder

And the open view


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Serger Ate My Checkbook Cover and Other Tales

Alas, since I spent all my jack on a Janome serger, I can't get a Kindle.  So I downloaded the free version to my computer and purchased - you guessed it - a book on serger projects!  Since I'm VERY much a newbie to serging, I got a very basic project book that explains about sergers and gives some easy projects and "stepped-up" versions of the basic ones.  It's called Ready Set Serge - quick and easy projects yu can make in minutes.  And you literally can make them in minutes - it takes longer to cut out the material than it does to make the projects.  There are some very nice projects in the book that are helping me to get acquainted with Donnie.  He's very different from a sewing machine like Marie!

Two things I learned from my Kindle download experience: 
  • Don't purchase books that may have patterns you would want to print.  You CAN'T print from a Kindle.  Not even the real ones, from what I could learn from the FAQs pages.
  • I REALLY REALLY want a Kindle for regular reading!
 So...I perused the projects in my new Kindle book and decided, of course, not to start with the first project.  I had to jump into the middle of the book, deciding to make a book cover since I always carry a paperback with me to the dining hall.  They don't take much fabric - 4 pieces of fabric with the largest being 11 x 8.  So I dug through my scraps and came up with enough to make my very first serged book cover.

Yes, the pages are GREEN!

Too Cool!  It even has a handy bookmark built right in!
I'm all set to take off to the dining hall now, and I don't even have to use a napkin to mark my place when I have to give up reading and go back to work!  First time out of the gate, my book cover actually fit.  I'm on a roll.  So what about larger sized books?  OOK!  This might involve measuring and MATH!  My brain finally cramped around the project and this is what I came up with, again using scraps.  I managed to create a cover for a trade-sized paperback book. 

I got a little funky here and added beads to the yarn bookmark. 
 The "Stepped-Up" version of the book cover pattern involved creating a tassel with the serger to add to the bookmark, but I didn't want to try that.  Instead, I tried using a 2-thread cover stitch to create ladders on a piece of cream-colored fabric.  I literally spent hours running yarn and embroidery thread through these ladders.  But since my directions for creating these ladders wasn't real good, the results were unusable even if the fabric did look pretty.  It looked like tapestry.  Don't know what I did with that mistake, though.  It's somewhere in my sewing room and eventually I'll salvage it to use for something... project book mentioned checkbook covers.  Pretty neat, I thought.  Back to the scrap bag I went.  And came up with this:

But it didn't feel substantial enough with just the fabric.  So I decided to add some quilt batting to the project.  Everything went pretty well at first.  I thought that I would dress up the front of the cover by adding a little applique.  After all, Marie has this great applique stitch that I figured it was time to master too.  So I did some internet surfing, found some free flower applique patterns, and came up with this:

I really liked the dark flowers.  But when it came time to put everything together and serge, I discovered that Donnie does not like thick wads of material.  He started to jam, then went crooked and ate quite a bit of seam allowance.  I still managed to get everything put together, but it just wasn't straight and neat.  And it took a while to get all the little pieces of batting out of the machine...NOT fun!  Add to that the fact that I had to re-thread Donnie and I was getting stressed out!  But I couldn't quit...

And the inside looked even worse.  So I decided to sacrifice some of my fat quarters, more batting, and try again.  But this time I cut my batting slightly smaller than the cover.  Marie really likes to applique on quilting sandwiches now that I've got this great walking foot, so of course we had to add flowers to the newest cover.  Then it was time to let Donnie have a turn at putting everything together.  After that, I tried putting a check pad in, and everything fit.  It was time for just a little more embellishment - I had found some really great little buttons at Noblet's Dime Store on Saturday, so I added some to the center of the main flower:

That should make spending money just a little bit more fun!

After that, I decided that I could use another set of my precious fat quarters (I'm just now discovering the wonderful world of fat quarters and love to look at my tiny stash!).  I needed to see if I could create a trade-sized embellished book cover for a really huge book.  This is what I came up with, after just a small amount of math-related frustration:

Voila!  I now consider myself to be the queen of appliqued book covers.  Potential Christmas presents for the readers in my family?  Hmmm...there's definitely some potential there!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Handbag Experience and Other Ramblings

A couple of weeks ago when I was at my favorite fabric store, Bless My Stitches, I discovered a cute handbag pattern and, you guessed it, fabric with LIME GREEN in it.  Why, you ask, is this such a find?  Because my daughter adores lime green, I love to sew, and her birthday is coming up.  A more perfect situation never cropped up.  Or sew I thought, until I started to make the bag. 

Sew Cool Bag Pattern!

As any garment maker knows, you wash that fabric before you ever pick up a pair of scissors.  So off to the washing machine went my lovely, pre-quilted pink and lime green purse material.  Off the the washing machine went the great polka-dot lime green binding fabric.  And out came a slightly cattywompased piece of quilted material.

No worries, I told myself.  All I've got to do is manage to cut it straight, and all will be well.  Since I couldn't find my rotary cutter, I was off to the dime store in a dash to buy a new one.  See, the last time that I attempted quilting, my children were babies!  Things tend to get lost after moving a few times...

Anyway, I put that sqoozy, movy material on my mat, rotary cutter in hand, ruler on the fabric, and used the time-honored rule of measure several times, cut only once.  And then cut again.  And trim slightly.  And trim some more.  The material just kept growing.  Finally I had it to measurement.  Yes!!

Next it was time to cut the binding.  First I had to cut off all the stringy thingies from the edges.  Then measure, stand on tiptoes, cut.  Fold, iron, and pin in place.  No problems there.  I can manage this!

Next it's off to the sewing machine.  Now the directions for this little bag said something about a walking foot.  What's a walking foot?  No problem, I've got this great new machine.  It should be able to sew anything.  And it does.  Wonderful!  I'm so proud of my stitchery!  Carefully, oh so carefully, I hand stitch the binding to the back of the bag.  We're talking REALLY tiny stitches here!  After all, this is for my darling daughter.  It has to be perfect!

Next, I need to fold the material into a perfect triangle.  NOT!!!  Nothing that I did would force that material into an even-edged triangle.  I tried for days.  I pinned...I stretched...I fussed...ok, I admit it, I cussed!  What to do?  She had already seen the material and pattern, and loved it.  Even gave me some lime green ribbon to add to it...I HAD to make this bag.

So...another trip to Bless My Stitches, where they tell me that my first mistake was washing the fabric.  Next mistake, not having a walking foot.  So armed with new material and a walking foot, back to the drawing board I go...

What did I do with the ruined fabric?  It was still pretty, if crooked.  Makes a great sewing mat for my serger and there's material left over to make a scrap catcher!

Never throw away anything that could possible be used!

The front of the ALMOST finished handbag!

And the back of the Almost finished handbag!
And here are some strange birds that I made.  I was thinking of dragging a tree limb into the sewing room and perching these on limbs.  Oddball decorations to drive the doggies crazy!