Wednesday, October 24, 2007

My Machine

So this is a sentimental story about a man and his sewing machine.

It's an old machine, a 1973 Kenmore, back when they made 'em out of metal and therefore fairly indestructable. It isn't great, and it certainly isn't fancy, but I wouldn't be surprised if I'm able to use it for the rest of my life.

I was in graduate school when I learned to quilt, so there was really no possibility of buying something as extravagant as a sewing machine. I planned on, for the foreseeable future, doing my designing and cutting at home, then pieceing everything together as quickly as possible on my mom's machine at Christmas and Summer breaks.

While this was happening, my older brother was buying his house in Ashland, Oregon. It was one of those "as is" home sales, meaning that he also ended up buying lots of miscellaneous crap stored in the basement. Amongst that crap was the old Kenmore.

"What should I do with this sewing machine?" he asked my mom.

"You know, your brother would really love that as a Christmas present," she told him.

"Really?" he asked.

And that's how I got my sewing machine. He gave my sister a circular saw. It was the best Christmas ever.

Why I Love My Sewing Machine

1. It's old enough to be cool. Keepin' it real!

2. It does everything a sewing machine needs to do: it makes a straight stitch, on very rare occasions a zig-zag stitch, and a couple times a decade a buttonhole. All you need.

3. It took a while, but I found a walking foot for it. (That's a gizmo that grabs the fabric from both top and bottom, instead of just the bottom, to feed fabric under the needle.)

4. Also, although I can't "lower the feed dogs" (never mind), I can still do free motion quilting with a "darning plate." I like having a "darning plate". How many guys do YOU know who have a "darning plate"?

5. That metal indestructibility thing is O.K.!

6. And, not to get all after-school special on you, but hey! My brother gave it to me!

Why I Will Get Another One Next Year

Next fall, I will send the last student loan check into the black hole. Then, by way of celebration, I'm gonna get me a new machine. Here's why.

1. The actual sewing surface on the Kenmore is only about three inches by eight inches, which is waaaaay too small for quilting.

(although things got much, much better when I got a custom "Clutter Gutter," which is an awesome supplemental sewing surface made for exactly this purpose by a woman here in Portland. I can't recommend it highly enough.)

2. It doesn't have a very wide "throat." The opening on the right side of the needle is average at best. When you are working on a full-size quilt, you have to ram a lot of twisted up fabric and batting through that space, so you don't want it to be small. A big throat is the main thing I'll be looking for in a new machine.

3. A few modern gizmos are cool. Getting the top and bottom threads at the same level of tension is a technicality that's important, and a real pain in the butt on an older machine. On lots of new machines, that's super easy. Also, you can set most of them so they always stop with the needle down. That's important, because it gives you more control when you're stitching around a corner.

4. The old machine is, well, old. It needs to be repaired every few years.

5. It's a HUGE pain to oil. Really. It takes, like, a half hour.

6. If I had two machines, I could host a little craft night sort of dealie. Or maybe take a student. That sort of thing.

Audience Participation Time

So that's the story with my machine. What's YOUR machine like?

[Last Year in SotC: I was working on my machine quilting skills, and my practice pieces were looking pretty cool. I'm not doing anything very intricate right now. But, I'm actually machine quilting real quilts, instead of just practicing, so that's a big improvement.]

Saturday, October 20, 2007


I. Cut. Into. A. Quilt.....

I was trying to cut off some of the painter's tape that I've been using to mark quilting lines, and of course the fabric stuck lightly to the tape and so I was cutting into fabric too.

After considering the obvious options -- suicide, joining a monastery, throwing my sewing machine through the window and never, ever, ever doing any quilting again, ever -- I got to work on, sigh, a patch.

Tell me it's not too visible? Unfortunately, it's a little worse in real life, but maybe not terrible terrible...

Friday, October 19, 2007

"Ice & Fire" It Is!!

The chads have been examined, the ballets have been counted, and the Name-That-Quilt is officially "Ice & Fire." Thanks to everyone for your suggestions and votes.

Better yet, I had a little consult this week with master quilter Mom5000 (which reminds me, I should do a post on Mom5000 one of these days) and she gave me the advice I wanted to hear: call the quilting on, um, "Ice & Fire" mostly done (there's still a little detail work left to do), and bind that sucker! So it looks like it will be the first finished project of the season.


I've been doing a little bit of sprucing up around the blog. It looks a little less spartan around here with a background in the masthead, for instance. Did that a couple weeks ago.

I've just added two new lists of links down the left side. The first one, "Community and Quilt Shops," will seem perfectly normal to quilters but maybe a little strange for non-quilters. Why a list of shops? Well, you have to understand that a good quilt shop is not only a place to buy fabric and gear, but also a hub of quilting culture. It's where classes are taught and ideas are exchanged. They are kind of the -- to get a little overwrought -- spiritual homes of the craft.

The second new list is of quilt shows that I've either been in before, or would like to enter pieces for in the future. I'm adding this list partially for your information and edification, of course, but even more as a challenge and reminder to myself. It's fun to put quilts in shows, and it's good to remember that you WANT to put quilts in shows. It keeps you focused on improving.

The shows I've listed are a real mix. A couple are larger, regional affairs, and several are of course in or near the Portland area, where I live. The last three, though, are on the South Coast of Oregon, where I grew up and where my parents still live. I like to keep a toe in the quilt scene down there. The larger quilt shows have their own websites, but for the smaller shows I've just linked out to sites that mention them. If you happen to know of other shows in the Portland area, I would be interested in hearing about them.


Friday, October 12, 2007

The Seam Allowance

The current Name That Quilt standings:

Ice and Fire -- 3
Star Halos -- 3
Saturn's Night Sky -- 1
Refraction #4 -- 1
Evening Star -- 1

If you haven't voted, check in here and throw in your two cents worth. Polls close next weekend.

Don't know what I'm talking about? Check here.

Or, if you would like to help me come up with a good symbol....

I'm soliciting ideas related to another quilt project at my other blog, here.

The Passion and Intrigue of the Seam Allowance

It seems like most of the people reading SOtC at this point are quilters themselves. Originally, most of the readers were non-quilters, and I was trying to explain the basics of the craft to them. Did anybody actually read these introductions to someone else's hobby? Who knows. But today, in the original spirit of the blog, I present this fascinating discussion of the Seam Allowance.

To start with: You don't want to think too hard about the details of how a sewing machine works. You just don't. It's hard to figure out, and it doesn't seem like it should actually work, and you'll forget it almost immediately, and just have to work it out again next time you get curious. Basically, though, you've got two threads -- the top thread and the bobbin thread -- that interlock at every stitch through the two (or more) layers of fabric that you are sewing together.

Now, the weave of the fabric is what holds the threads in place. Because of that, you don't want your stitches to be right next to the cut edge of your fabric. If the stitch is too close to the edge, the fabric will unravel in no time, and your seam will come undone.

In quilt-making, there is a nearly universal standard distance between the edge of any piece of fabric and the stiching used to piece it. That distance, called the "seam allowance," is one quarter of an inch.

In designing quilts and cutting fabrics, it's really critical to remember your seam allowance. If you want your quilt to consist of 5" squares, you have to cut 5 1/2" squares -- 5" plus 1/4" on all sides. If you want to alternate between 9" squares and little 3 x 3 checkerboards of 3" squares, you need to cut 9 1/2" and 3 1/2" squares. (If you are going to cut a triangle, or anything else that isn't rectangular, it gets more complicated. You'll be doing some applied geometry.)

When you are -- to use my very least favorite quilt term -- "fussycutting," or cutting a specific piece to make it ~exactly right~ for where that piece is going in the quilt, you have to think about the seam allowance. Anything on the outer 1/4" is going to disappear; it gets pressed, or literally folded, under the quilt face.

Here are some two inch squares from the Oregon Map Quilt, before pieceing. Keep an eye on that one three across and three down. See how much yellow it has in it? We don't like that. But we're not worried. Also, notice the square on the lower left, the one with purple grapes all around its edges.

Here are the same squares sewn into strips. Now they are 1 1/2 inches wide. Much of the yellow in three across, three down is folded underneath now.

And here are the same squares in the final product, with the strips sewn together. The yellow is gone. And there's just a couple of grapes left (representing LaGrande, actually) in the fabric that was on the lower left. The rest of the purple is safely out of sight, hidden in the seam allowance.

When I started this post, I made myself the challenge of trying to write about seam allowances in a way that would be accessible and interesting to the non-quilter. And I see that I've failed miserably. Ah, well.

See ya next week!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Name That Quilt! General Election

Name That Quilt!

First of all, thanks to everyone for your excellent quilt name suggestions. I took them, tampered with a few of them, and picked five that I like. Since I believe in doing things in a open and democratic fashion, I will leave the final determination to a vote of the SoTC readers.

Over on the right is yet another picture of the quilt in question.

Here are the candidates. Vote!

Evening Star
Refraction #4.
Ice and Fire
Saturn's Night Sky

Speaking of Group Participation....

My friend Jennifer and I had the idea earlier this year of seeing if we could round up a group of people interested in making quilts based on Decemberists songs. A "quilt challenge" sort of thing. I haven't really done much with the idea, because I just don't think the demographics are probably right. But nothing ventured, nothing gained.

If you think the Decemberists quilt challenge might be right for you, please follow this flowchart:
  • Do you quilt, or would you like to?

  • If so, have you ever heard of the Decemberists?

  • If so, do you have some enthusiasm for the music of the Decemberists?

  • If so, can you imagine having the time and inclination to create a quilt based on a Decemberists song?

  • If so, let me know.

Quilt Season 2007: the Progress Report!

Labyrinth is still on the back burner for another week or two, although it was really sweet of several readers to protest this. I prepared the binding for it yesterday, but won't be putting that on for months yet. My plan is to start quilting it in a couple of weeks.

Name That Quilt is also on the back burner. I have finished my minimal quilting plan for it, and am thinking about whether I want to keep going and double the current quilting density, or just to decide that finished is good and declare victory. I'd actually like to get my mom's input on this, so it may just stay on the back burner until the next time I see her.

Niece #1's Graduation Quilt has made huge progress. I spent about 4 hours last weekend just laying it out, piece by piece, on a big sheet on the bedroom floor. Then I went through and pinned every piece to the sheet. I will probably start pieceing the face together next weekend.

Four Seasons is also on the back burner. I've assembled the faces for both "Spring" and "Summer," and now I need to find backing fabric that more or less matches what I used on the other two. I'll probably do most of the actual assembly over Thanksgiving.

Indigo Stars hasn't progressed.

With so many projects having reached a back-burner stage, there's also another one that has joined the active pile. On my pre-season goal list, I mentioned Two Complex Shapes, a wall hanging I made back in 1999. In terms of pieceing and design, 'Shapes is pretty cool. Unfortunately, I made it when my actual quilting skills were minimal, so it was very crudely quilted and, in part, tied. After years of hanging, it is a little saggy. Jovaliquilts commented that it doesn't look finished, and I completely agree. So now, eight years later, I'm finishing it.

I'm using the painter's tape trick again, and I can already tell I'm going to be really happy with the result. See how much better the partially quilted areas already look, compared to the still unquilted areas? (The brighter blue at the bottom is an area prepped with painter's tape and ready for quilting.)

An Acheiveable Goal

I haven't been to a meeting of my guild for a long time, but I'm going tomorrow night and should be going regularly from here on out. There are meetings every month, every other month they are held in the daytime, when I work. So, I go to a meeting every two months.

I won't have any completed projects this time, of course. After this meeting, though, I think I should be able to present a strong completed project at "Show and Tell" every two months, all the way through to next summer. So that's my goal.

On a minor note, I've finally finished posting photos to the entries from the first year of SoTC, from back when it was on "Friendster." So, if you want to dig around in the older posts of this blog for some reason, they're ready for you.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Wrestling With Quilting Pictures, Plus a Tag

(Here to Name That Quilt? Go two posts down, to this one.)

Geez, getting a photo of quilting in a red-color area of a quilt is murder! The photos I posted yesterday, which were supposed to show the quilting on the Name-That-Quilt, did no such thing.

I try again. These ones look pretty good in their original 3000 x 2000 pixel resolution; hopefully as they are displayed here they will at least give you the IDEA of how the quilting looks.

Here's what it looks like on the back (with lots of orange threads sticking out that haven't been buryed yet).
Did that help? No? Oh well.

I've Been Tagged! Su Bee of "Pieces of Time." So I'm "it."
The game is to describe yourself with adjectives beginning with the letters of your name. Should be doable, let's give it a whirl...
M is for male. Which is not a particular distinction -- roughly half the planet shares this trait, and no I do not expect a medal. It is maybe significant in a quilting context, however.
I is for independent. I don't like following other peoples' patterns.
C is for color, um, "color-loving." I've always had a base-of-the-spine attraction to bright colors. I probably wouldn't be quilting if I didn't.
H is for historically conscious. This is becoming increasingly important to me, especially as I've started to take on some projects with blocks that were originally made decades before I was born.
A is for amateur. I do not claim to be an expert at this.
E is for equiangular. Phew! Had to get something in there that got across my enthusiasm for the basic simple shapes: squares, rectangles, and triangles.
L is for lines. I'm finally starting to get comfortable with the actual lines of quilting that finish a piece. About time.
And now I notice that nothing in the tag says that your adjectives have to be about quilting per se. Damn, that explains why it was so hard.

I guess I should keep the tag alive by offering it forward: Rebel? Quilty? Gl? Want in on this? Don't feel obligated on my account....