Sewing a Book Quilt – Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

The second set of blocks for my book quilt weren’t books at all, but a set of 4 gnomes for the corners. I used the Nordic Gnome pattern from the 2021 Quiltmas Spectacular. This block is traditionally pieced, rather than Foundation Paper Pieced like the book blocks. I’ve actually never done traditional piecing, so this was a bit of a learning experience for me, and some of my seams are a bit wonky.

The blocks turned out 12 1/2” square, which set the size for the rest of the blocks in the quilt. I took a minute to look up the size of a twin quilt (70” x 90”) and realized I woefully miscalculated the number of blocks I would need(6×8 instead of 4×5). This brings my total number of blocks to 24 instead of the 14 I originally planned on. Which, in turn, means that I need to add 10 weeks to my making schedule for this quilt. An additional 10 weeks is quite a setback, but my original plan only took half the year to make the top, leaving 26 weeks for basting, quilting, and binding. I have never quilted anything before, but if I pick a simple, spaced design it should be doable to baste, quilt, and bind in 16 weeks.

The colour scheme of these blocks is very personal for me. I grew up with 3 brothers in a similar age range to me (my sisters came along about 10 years after us), and my parents used colour assignments to signify whose stuff was whose. My oldest brother was yellow (tan in the quilt), my next brother was green, I was red, and my last brother was blue. Now that we’re adults we’re spread across different states, but it feels good to have the four of us together again, at least symbolically, in this quilt.

Making a Quilted Plague Doctor Mask

It all started at a Renaissance Festival. I saw a woman wearing a quilted plague doctor mask, and I immediately knew I needed one. So I googled how to make a plague doctor mask and this is what popped up.

I was ecstatic that a pattern existed and it used a technique that I was already familiar with! I traced the pattern onto some interfacing and immediately made a mock-up.

I made a few minor fit adjustments, and then got started with the piecing. I used the English Paper Piecing technique to construct each panel, but I decided to skip the papers and cut my batting to shape instead.

I used a range of blue batiks to make the mask. I had already cut about a million 2″ squares for another project in the same fabrics, and unfortunately this size was a little small for many of the pieces, so I spent some time drawing new lines to make the shapes a better size for my pre-cut squares. I traced the new pattern onto some woven fusible interfacing, fused that to some quilt batting, and cut out my pieces one by one. Then it was on to the sewing.

I basted each fabric square onto its corresponding piece, trimming the fabric to size as I did so. Then I whipped each shape to the next one to form the four main panels of the mask. When all the piecing was done I ironed the panels – it was so satisfying to see all the fabrics and seams relax and flatten. Then I ironed the lining pieces to size and pinned them to each of the coordinating outer pieces in preparation for quilting. I used my muslin as the liner, and I am really pleased with how well the colours coordinate with the outside of the mask. It’s one of those tiny details that only I will know about, and it makes me happy.

I quilted each panel by sewing close to each seamline on my machine. I was amazed how the quilting made the panels so much more stiff and stable! I added a bit of bias to the eye-holes in yet another batik, then removed the basting threads and started sewing the panels together (using whip-stitches again).

The mask was finally in one piece, but it wasn’t quite done. I tried it on, just to make sure it fit. It turns out the mask fits my dog, too (he was not happy about this)! The last steps were to make some straps and to sew them on along with the binding. The straps close with a pair of D-rings.

My mask is complete, and I love wearing it! It’s definitely different than wearing a closer-fitting mask and it gets in my way a bit, but I firmly believe that great style is worth a little inconvenience.

How to Make Simple Sewing Pattern Weights

When I was a teenager my mom taught me how to sew. I always had the hardest time getting the pattern to line up with the straight of grain. I would lay it out, pin it, measure, unpin and adjust, measure again, etc. until the pattern piece was straight. Then the whole process was repeated for the next pattern piece. I hated the cutting process because it always seemed to take so much effort to get everything laid out properly.

After college once I was out on my own I started sewing again. For a while I used the pinning method, hating every second of it, then I read something online and realized I could weight my pattern pieces down instead of pinning them. The heavens opened at that moment, and the angels sang. My life would never be the same! Since that time I have been using a random assortment of items to weight my pattern pieces: books, figurines, my phone, an extra pair of scissors … you get the idea. It was frustrating to never have quite enough weights of the right size to hand. So in true DIY fashion, I decided to fix the problem.

In researching solutions to my weighty problem I found several blogs that used small ceramic tiles to make pattern weights. I went out to Home Depot and bought a package of hexagonal tiles (I like that they almost look like EPP shapes), then I bought a few sheets of cheap felt from Walmart. Some other materials I used that I already had were a hot glue gun, hot glue sticks, scissors, and chalk to mark the felt with. All told, I spent less than $20 on my project.

Step 1: Remove the tiles from the backing. I planned to cut through the mesh holding the tiles together, but they actually peeled off pretty easily. I used a pair of scissors to clean up any glue that marred the sides.

Step 2: Trace around the tiles onto felt, then cut the pieces out.

Step 3: Adhere the felt to the tiles. I put a circle of hot glue in the center of each tile to hold the felt in place, then glued down each side as close to the edge as I could manage.

Step 4: Clean up the edges. A quick snip on all sides leaves these pattern weights looking just about perfect.

My sister helped me make a dozen weights, and we spent about 20 minutes on the project. It was fun to make, and I’ve already started using them in my sewing projects. If you’re tired of pins, give pattern weights a try. They might just change your life!

Sewing a Book Quilt – Part 1

As the title suggests, this will be a new series of posts about a quilt I started late last year. I actually bought the pattern in July of 2020, and one of my 2021 goals was to sew the quilt. That didn’t happen for a variety of reasons, but I am determined to make the quilt happen this year.

One of the biggest reasons I didn’t make progress on the quilt in 2021 is because I didn’t have a plan. So this year I started with planning. I knew I wanted to use the Taller Tales Quilt Block Collection for my quilt, but I wanted it to be more than just a collection of books. I added in the Gnome pattern from the 2021 Quiltmas Spectacular, but I still wanted something else. I hit upon the idea of adding words to my quilt, and I remembered the Thomas Jefferson quote, “I cannot live without books.” Pithy and so very true. When I mashed all these elements together this is what I came up with:

I had never done Foundation Paper Piecing before this quilt, and the first block was frustrating and took longer than I expected. Even so, it only took me about an hour, so I decided I could spare an hour a week to make a block. I calculated that if I sewed a block every weekend they would be complete in 14 weeks. I then gave myself two weeks per row of text, making 8 weeks for the center block. Then I planned 4 weeks to assemble the top, for a total of 26 weeks. My timings were meant to be generous since there will inevitably be a few weekends where I don’t make as much progress as expected. If I am able to follow my plan for the quilt top, that leaves me a full half of the year left for quilting and binding. I don’t have that part planned yet – I will figure it out when I get to it.

For the books and the gnomes I am using my scraps from garment sewing as much as possible. These are all sewn onto a plain white ground for continuity. Not all garment materials are appropriate for a quilt, but I have a fair amount of cotton scraps, and even some from my mom that she used to sew me clothes when I was a kid! I love all the memories this quilt will house once it is done! I am avoiding any fabrics that are stretchy or have significant synthetic components. I am not too worried about colours – I trust that my own sense of colour guided my choices when I bought the fabrics, and thus my stash of scraps is already curated to my personal colour palette. This is also meant to be a scrappy quilt, so as long as nothing screams that it doesn’t coordinate anything is fair game.

The last bit of planning (at least for now): I printed off all my FPP papers for the books and the gnomes. I have selected the alphabet I will be using for the center, but I haven’t ordered the book yet.

With the planning out of the way, I got to sewing! So far I have completed 4 blocks (all the same pattern). I only need 4 of this block, so I will be moving on to the next kind of book this weekend. With each rendition of the block I have gotten faster and better at it. Now I can bang out a block in half an hour – and that includes ironing between each step!

I am so excited about this quilt! The small, quick wins every week are so motivating, and I am having a lot of fun with the FPP technique! I’ll update you once I’ve finished the next round of blocks.

Read Part 2 here.

Selfless Sewing: Christmas 2021

Christmas is over, which means now I can share my Christmas makes with you! I have done completely Handmade Christmases in the past. Mostly because I didn’t have money, but I did have time and yarn. As I started to earn more over the years I also started being more strategic about which gifts to buy and which to make. Some years I didn’t make any presents at all. This year I decided to sew gifts for my two sisters.

My middle sister does the most incredible Jack Sparrow cosplay. It seemed obvious that she needed a pirate shirt in her life and repertoire. I used the same basic pattern and instructions as for my own pirate shirt, but with a few modifications. My sister’s shirt is made in a mid-weight linen, where mine is made of handkerchief linen. I also made her shirt slightly narrower – the entire shirt circumference is one Width of Fabric. I did a lapped shoulder seam on her shirt, where mine has no shoulder seam at all. And I sewed her shirt on the machine with French Seams.

Most of the visible stitching, such as at the collar, hem, and cuffs, is done by hand. The buttonholes are done by machine. Doing so much of the work by machine made this shirt MUCH faster than mine, which I sewed completely by hand. My sister was beyond thrilled, and that made me happy.

For my youngest sister I made a pair of plaid pants. Truth be told, I started these for her birthday in August, but then I got bogged down with fitting, and gave her something else for her birthday. It was nice to pull these out a few days before Christmas and have them almost done already! I based her pants off my modified pants pattern (which is based off the Cigarette Pants from Gertie Sews Vintage Casual), and then adjusted them to her measurements. The fabric is from Hobby Lobby. I really wanted to make pants from this fabric for myself, but I had already made myself a pair of grey plaid pants earlier in the year, and two pairs of plaid pants in one year seemed like overkill. The pants turned out fantastic! I accidentally cut them too short for a double-fold hem, so I finished them with black fold-over elastic instead.

Do you make Christmas gifts or do you prefer to buy presents?

A Tale of Two Scarves

This is the story of two scarves that lived very different lives.

In September of 2019 I bought two balls of Cascade Paradigm Shift in the Seattle colourway. I loved the bold colour shifts throughout the yarn. I warped my loom for a scarf, started weaving, and then stopped.

A year later, in September of 2020 I pulled my loom out and wove the rest of the scarf in a day. I initially thought the scarf would be too wide and bulky to wear comfortably due to the heavy cotton yarn in both warp and weft, but the looser weave structure makes it very fluid and nice to wear.

A few months later in December of 2020 I needed a last-minute Christmas gift. The cotton scarf was the wrong colour for the recipient, but I remembered how it wove up in a single day and decided to weave another scarf.

The warp was a variety of fingering weight wools in white, with a stripe of pink on one side. The weft was half a skein of Less Traveled Yarn’s Creosote Collection on their Lafayette base. It was mesmerizing to watch the colours shift with every throw of my shuttle.

It took longer than a day to weave, but it was such a lovely experience. The fabric is much finer than its cotton cousin, and it turned out the perfect width.

I twisted and knotted the fringe and then sent it off to its new owner.

I’ve been trying to use up my stash yarn (and avoid buying more), and I forgot how quickly a skein of yarn weaves up! I have the other half-ball of this variegated yarn and a skein of Eggplant to use as a warp. Now I just need to figure out who in my life needs a purple scarf.

Handkerchief Musings

When I made my linen bedsheets I cut squares out of the corners for the corner boxes. Instead of wasting the linen scraps I decided to make handkerchiefs! Handkerchiefs have been around in some way, shape, or form for as long as people have needed to wipe their hands and faces. I was surprised to learn a few years ago that mens’ and womens’ hankies are not the same size (a standard man’s handkerchief is 12″ square, while womens’ hankies vary from 8″ to 10″ square). Was this yet another subtle sexist thing? Why weren’t women allowed to have hankies as big as those men used? One of the joys of being a maker is the ability to make things just as you want them. I resolved to make myself a 12″ hanky.

I had 4 offcuts from my sheets, and they were roughly 19″ square. But they weren’t actually cut square. I didn’t draw a thread when I cut the corner boxes out, and the pieces turned out pretty ragged. To make my first hanky I drew threads to create a true 12″ square, then cut my hanky out, and hemmed around all 4 sides with whip stitches. Easy peasy. But I was annoyed with the waste cutting a 12″ square caused. The remaining pieces were 6″ wide and 12-18″ long. I could piece them to create a second 12″ hankie, but it just wouldn’t be as pretty (or fold as nicely) as a piece with no seam.

For my second offcut I cleaned up the edges, and divided the piece in 4. I followed the same finishing steps as for the larger hankie: small double-fold hem secured with whip stitches. These hankies turned out between 8-9″ and almost square. The lack of waste (other than cleaning up the ragged edges) was very satisfying.

Then I started using the linen hankies instead of my regular Kleenex. I was surprised to find that I actually preferred the smaller size hankies instead of the larger. I guess this is one of those conventions that is actually due to personal preference instead of being a result of sexism.

I love my new hankies. I’m considering embroidering initials or flowers on the corners, but that is a project for another day. I learned an important lesson, though: sometimes I make assumptions about things, but once I learn more I find that my assumptions were wrong. There are a lot of things wrong with this world, but just because something seems unfair doesn’t always mean it is, or that it was meant to be. I don’t believe that people are inherently good, but if you let yourself see things in a positive light you can be amazed by the goodness of ordinary people.

Circle Skirt, Meet Petticoat

I have been obsessing over the Coquelicot Skirt by Wildflower designs since before the pattern was available. I waited for months as they posted teaser images. I knew this was the perfect garment for me. The pattern was published several months ago, but for some reason it’s taken me quite a while to get around to making it. But at long last the time has come. The Coquelicot skirt will be mine!

Each sewing project starts with pattern and fabric choices. The pattern suggests using very drapey fabrics for maximum swish factor, but I decided to go in a different direction: I wanted a quilted skirt. Last winter (Winter of 2020/2021) I saw the most beautiful quilted floral fabric at JoAnn’s. I kept convincing myself not to buy it because I didn’t have a project for it, and then when warmer weather came back it was taken off the shelves. I thought it was gone forever, and I was very sad. Then early this winter I saw it again! This time I wouldn’t let it pass me by. I bought 1 1/2 yards (I think?) along with a similar amount of a coordinating quilting cotton and started planning my garment.

I cut the main skirt panels out of the quilted fabric, and everything else out of the plain cotton. You can see in the photo above that I had several options for my seam finishes. I started by binding the pocket slit with 1″ bias made from a light batiste (it’s the same batiste I used for my 1920s slip). I then used the same batiste to finish the edges of the quilted panels using a Hong Kong finish. Then I seamed up the back panels (the front was cut on the fold). You’re supposed to sew the seams and then apply the Hong Kong binding, but these quilted pieces were heavy, and I didn’t want to wrangle them any more than I had to.

With the pocket slits finished I sewed the pockets onto the back skirt panel with the raw edges facing in, then overcast the raw edges. I should have bound this edge with batiste, but I forgot until the pocket was already sewn up. The pocket itself is bound with a remnant of tan bias I had from another project.

I then created the front and back waistbands and the lacing panel. I didn’t interface any of these pieces, since the quilting cotton is stiff enough on its own. I let the garment hang overnight just in case it decided to stretch out (it didn’t).

with all the pre-construction work out of the way, all that was left was to sew up the side seams and do the finishing. The hem is bound with bias made from the same fabric used for the waistband and pockets to provide additional continuity to the skirt.

With that the skirt was done! Hooray!

It is a lot of fun to wear, even though the heavy fabric made it a bit of a pain to make. It is quite warm when sitting down, although it stands out from the body when standing up, so it’s not especially warm when I am upright.

I made View A (half-circle skirt) with the waistband from View B. I do not recommend this, and especially not with heavy fabrics. The waist lines are drafted on very different curves, and that made it rather difficult to get the back waistband onto the skirt. But that is a problem stemming from my decisions, not from the pattern itself.

One change I would make (because there’s always at least one change I would make): I find that the internal lacing panel folds up on the right side when tension is put on it. This makes total sense since there is nothing keeping it flat. I would fix this by inserting a small bone just inside the lacing tape on just the right side.

Have you ever worked with quilted fabric? What is your favourite kind of garment to make?

How I Made Bedsheets from a Pile of Linen (and why I will never make bedsheets again)

In a way all of us who sew, knit, or otherwise make things do it for the love of creation, knowing that it will often be less expensive and/or easier to buy something rather than make it. But that doesn’t stop us. We want to try a different colour or fabric than we can find in stores, or we want to tweak the fit or make some other alteration. Whatever the reason for making by hand, we enjoy the process and take pride in having made something useful and beautiful. But sometimes we hit a wall and realize that the specific thing we are making might be better bought. I came to this realization while knitting socks a few years ago. I still have a bunch of sock patterns and sock yarn, I just don’t enjoy the process (or the tight gauge) of sock-knitting.

A few weeks ago I got into bed and our sheets ripped! We’ve had these sheets for 7 years, so I suppose they were due to be retired. After I got over my shock, I formulated a plan to make a set of linen sheets. It was just sewing a bunch of straight lines, right? How hard could it be?

I bought 15 yards of IL019 linen from fabrics-store.com. This ended up being more than I needed, but I would rather have too much fabric than not enough. I measured the sheets we had and planned the lengths I needed to cut. When my fabric arrived I pre-washed it and cut it using the drawing-a-thread method to ensure everything was straight. Drawing a thread takes longer than making a normal cut, but it was the only way I was going to get this very shifty linen cut straight.

I started with the top sheet since it seemed less intimidating than the bottom sheet. I cut 2 lengths, seamed them together selvedge to selvedge, and hemmed them. Easy peasy, right? Wrong. I think I’ve told you before about how I can’t resist making things harder than they need to be. I have been dying to use some of the decorative stitches on my new sewing machine, and I decided this was the perfect time! So I embroidered a Greek Key motif on the outer edges of the top sheet. It looks beautiful, but it took FOREVER.

With the top sheet done I could no longer ignore the bottom sheet. My process was a little chaotic: I drew a thread and cut my fabric. Then I seamed the lengths together selvedge to selvedge and trimmed everything to the correct length. Next I cut a square out of each corner to make the corner box. I did not draw a thread for these cuts (I actually stacked the linen and cut all 4 corners at once), and they turned out pretty off-grain. I sewed the corners with a French seam for durability and a beautiful inside finish. Then I unpicked the corners and re-sewed them right side out. Then it occurred to me that the double fabric width was probably wider than our bed, so I measured and re-seamed the center using a flat-felled seam.

I had cut 4 lengths of elastic, so I attached them to the corners at this point using a zig-zag stitch. I have no idea what lengths I cut or how I got to the numbers I did, but it worked. The last step was to hem the sheet. I used a normal straight stitch, since the bottom of the fitted sheet won’t be visible on a daily basis.

Before declaring victory I made a couple pillowcases using French seams and the same decorative top-stitching as the top sheet.

I was elated to be done with this project!! The linen was lovely to work with, but the huge amounts of fabric made it such a pain to wrangle. I was so looking forward to snuggling into a pile of deliciously soft linen. We put the fitted sheet on the bed…and it didn’t fit. By a lot. I may have sobbed uncontrollably at this point.

I took a break from the project, since it had consumed an entire week of sewing at this point. The following weekend I compared the new fitted sheet to an existing sheet that fit well. I needed to add a whopping 11 inches!!! I am honestly not sure how I mis-measured on such a grand scale.

I cut the sheet down the center (by drawing a thread) and added a panel to make up the missing width. All the seams are flat-felled. I felled the center seam of the insertion the opposite direction of the main center seam to reduce bulk. This was not an elegant solution, but it worked, and the seams don’t feel obvious when laying in bed.

The last step was embroidering the word “side” on both side edges of the fitted sheet. Our other sheets have a little tag saying whether you’re looking at the side or top/bottom of the sheet, and it is super helpful when making the bed! I used one of the alphabets on my machine for this. The embroidery went really quickly, but cleaning up the threads in between the letters was a bit of a pain.

I love these sheets turned out! They are soft, and yet textured! My husband keeps remarking that he feels like we’re at a hotel. I would definitely like more linen sheets in my life, but I’m not sure I would be willing to make them again. Buying linen sheets costs about twice as much as making them (if I get the fabric on sale), and that extra money seems like a good investment in my mental health and happiness.

What have you decided is better bought than made?

Happy Birthday to Me!

A few weeks ago I celebrated my birthday!

On Saturday I went trail-riding with my husband and sister. I swear humans were meant to travel on horseback. I love the smell of the horses and the swaying of the horse as it walks. Cars go fast, but horses nurture my soul.

On Sunday my husband took me out for breakfast, and then we went shopping for a cake plate. We returned home with this beauty and I set to making a cake.

My sister joined us after lunch and she and I worked all afternoon on a deliciously creamy lasagna and on my birthday cake. I had chosen to make an Ube cake to remind me of my travels in the Philippines a few years ago. First I used powdered Ube to make Halaya, or Ube jam, then I used that jam to make a delightfully purple cake. The cooking took all afternoon, but we had the most wonderful meal.

My youngest sister (who went riding with us) knitted me a teapot cozy, and my middle sister made me a Lord of the Rings journal! What a piece of art!!

It was a delightful birthday, and I thoroughly enjoyed snacking on cake and giving slices away to friends and neighbors.