Thursday, October 23, 2014

Making Test Blocks

Today didn't start out well.  I awoke feeling ill again, and like a steam roller had flattened me while I slept.  Nothing wanted to move.  When I forced the issue, everything creaked and popped like sound effects in a scary cartoon.  Is there some kind of weird initiation rite into the sixth decade of life that I wasn't warned about?

My only wish after breakfast was to crawl back in bed and sleep, but I dragged myself to my sewing machine instead and started sorting and pressing the pieced units for my Sunrise, Sunset blocks that I had sewn several weeks ago.  As I worked, the rhythmic pace of a repetitive task that required some degree of mental concentration seemed to ease my headache and sinus pain.  I think most crafts are just as good as aspirin-like medications and don't have horrid side effects!

While I was sorting, I was reminded of the value of a test block and remembered that I forgot to talk about this topic.  I made a test block weeks ago for the obvious reason of seeing if I liked my chosen fabrics in this block.  Colors and fabrics that look good together on paper or in software programs like Electric Quilt or Quilt Pro can look quite different in reality.  A test block will show how the real fabrics play together.

There are a few other good reasons for making test blocks, too.  As I assemble my test blocks, I also test my pressing chart and work out any problems I may encounter.  With the Sunrise, Sunset block, I quickly learned that positive/negative blocks aren't as simple as they look.  Seams have to be sewn and pressed just right or a completely different design develops.  Today, I found nine units that must be taken apart and resewn because the half-square triangles are going the wrong way!

Test blocks also show me how fabrics will behave as they're worked with.  I quickly learned that my light fabric ravels rather easily while my dark fabric doesn't ravel at all.  As I sew, I'll take care to be more gentle with my light pieces.  Another option is to starch the lights.  I rarely use starch or sizing unless a fabric ravels so badly that it can't be used otherwise, but that's my personal preference.

My last reason for making a test block is that I use it as my road map for making all the other blocks.  I find it easier to refer to a real block as I work rather than a diagram on paper.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

To Wash or Not to Wash

It seems like every year one quilt group or another has a discussion about whether or not to prewash fabrics.  There are many good reasons on both sides.  At my old house where the laundry room adjoined my crafting/sewing room, I was more inclined to wash fabrics before cutting them.  Now that I have to trek through the rain and mud to get to the laundry room, I only prewash when absolutely necessary and take my chances on everything working out.  So far, I've been pretty lucky.

But no one bats a thousand.  I recently unearthed a small wall hanging UFO that had to be laundered before it could be completed (somebody's muddy paw prints!).  When it came out of the dryer, I faced an unpleasant surprise: one fabric, the one I had used for sashing the blocks, had shrunk.  Groan!

Since it's a simple seasonal wall hanging for Halloween, I debated just finishing it with puckers and all.  Strategically placed quilting would have camouflaged a great deal.  But as I studied it, I decided that I really didn't like that pumpkin fabric anymore (tastes change over the years).  So I dug out a seam ripper and took everything apart while "watching" a tv show.  Then I decided to take a detour from my Valentine fabric project and get this UFO finished before this Halloween.  I dug through my stash for other fabric possibilities, spent several days testing this combination and that combination (while sewing heart fabric HSTs), and finally settled on two fabrics for a border and binding without any sash.

If I'd had an appropriate black fabric in my stash, I think I would have added a very narrow inner black border.  But I still like this look better than the original one.  And I have one less UFO cluttering my studio.  Tomorrow, it's back to work on my red and white Sunrise, Sunset blocks.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Switching Gears as the Seasons Change

I've been ill.  After two rounds of antibiotics, I think my body is finally claiming victory over the infection.  While combatting that, the weather changed from sunny and warm to rainy and chilly.  My heaters are now on and my mom's wood stove is puffing away.  I hate the smoke but I sure love the heat a wood stove puts out - there's nothing better except good ol' sunshine!

Today was not rainy so we "battened down the hatches" for winter.  The summer things that could fit in the storage shed were put in the storage shed.  What didn't fit is now covered with tarps.  Tomorrow's storm is supposed to be windy, so we'll find out soon if the tarps are secured well enough.  It's time now to settle into indoor pursuits, like quilting, sewing, crocheting, knitting, embroidery, cross stitch, kumihimo and baking.  Most of these endeavors keep me out of trouble during our long rainy season.

The baking, however, can get me into trouble.  I love to bake, but too much of that and I find myself in need of a new wardrobe!  This year, however, I'll have three 15-year-old nephews (not triplets - twins and a cousin) near by who, I think, will quite happily take the baked goods off my hands so the calories won't go on my hips.  I can bake all kinds of yummy treats and not gain an ounce as long as I limit myself to one little taste.