Friday, April 22, 2011

Round and Round - Applique Circle Methods Put To the Test

Happy Easter!

I belong to several excellent, online quilting groups.  Lately, there has been quite a bit of discussion regarding the best method for appliqueing circles.  I have always used Template Free preparation to prepare and baste the circle in one step, and then needle turn to applique it down. My grapes, berries, etc. have always looked acceptable but I am always looking for ways to improve my work.  So, I set out to test a few of the methods discussed in the groups.  I can say that there is no one definitive way to make circles and that personal preference plays a huge role. So instead of trying to sway anyone towards one particular method, I decided to record both the pros and cons I experienced as I conducted the great circle experiment of 2011.

Gathered over a Freezer Paper or Card Stock Template
The first method I attempted required me to draw several circle shapes on either freezer paper or card stock and them cut them out.  Well, it seems I must been out the day they taught circle cutting in Kindergarten because I could not manage to cut out a circle that did not have a flat edge.  Like most things in lifequilting- your outcome is only as good as your template.  Therefore, based on the fact I couldn't make a decent template, I had to skip over this method. I wonder if I can hire a cutting tutor.

Gathered over a Mylar Template
This method requires the purchase of a set of Mylar Templates.  The fabric for the circle is cut about 1/4 inch larger than the finished circle.  Using a strong thread, run a line tiny basting stitches just inside the cut line.

 Place the Mylar template in the center of the basted lines. Pull the basting threads to gather the fabric around the template.

Paint the edges of the fabric with either fabric sizing or starch.

Place the fabric circle under a medium iron until the starch/sizing dries.

After the sizing is dry, loosen the basting stitched to remove the Mylar template.  Pull the basting threads gently to close the circle again.  Place on your background and stitch.  The biggest PRO is that the circle is pretty round.  You can't argue with results.  However, I did not find the process enjoyable.  Which leads me to the CONS.  I had to work at my ironing station with a hot iron and sizing.  I like my handwork because it's portable and I can stitch anywhere the rest of the family is.  Also, the starch and ironing made the circle relatively stiff and hard.  I like my fabric to feel like fabric. 
 Moreover, I am not a fan of adding any more chemicals to my fabric.  In fact, I prewash all fabric in hot water because of my allergies.  If any fabrics bleed in the hot water wash I discard them.  In the tropics, we can't use starch without attracting critters. That leaves us with sizing.  I noticed that when I sprayed the fabric with sizing, the fabric began to bleed quite a bit.  Now I'm worried about what will happen when I wash this piece and the remaining sizing washes out - will it bleed the color onto my background?  Scary.

Gathered Around a Mylar Template and Pulled Through a Round Hole
This method is fast because it does not require any stitching.  It does require the purchase of a Circleez tool.  Basically, you cut a square of fabric the size indicated on the packaging for the size of circle you are making.
Place Mylar template in the center of the fabric.

Gather fabric around the template and twist.

Pull excess gathered fabric through red template that comes with the tool.
Arrange the gathers such that the circle's edges are nice and smooth.

Spray the front with sizing and place under a medium iron until dry.

After it's dry, remove from template and trim excess fabric.
Several circles ready to stitch.

After the circle is trimmed, place on your background fabric and stitch.  The most notable PRO is that this technique is FAST. I was able to prepare a circle in less than a minute as claimed on the packaging.  However, all the cons from the previous technique also apply here.  In addition, I was not able to get as perfect a circle because the edge was not as crisp as using the basted gathering around the template. 
Circleez circle

Template Free Preparation and Needle Turn
This is my old standby method.  Please refer to my pictorial tutorial  Template Free Circles for a more detailed explanation of this method.  Basically, you draw the circle on the wrong side of the background fabric. User a circle template for an accurate shape.  My favorite is Skinny Stems & Tiny Circles Ruler by Mary Sorensen. You pin the applique fabric to the front of the background.  From the back you baste right on the pencil line.  Then from the front you trim the applique fabric seam allowance.  Clip one or two basting threads, remove them, and needle turn the seam allowance. 

Trimmed circle. Clip knot and remove
one basting stitch at a time.

Remove basting stitches and needle turn as you go. 

Not perfect but not bad. 
The biggest PRO to this technique is that it it TOTALLY portable and does not require any extra chemical (i.e. starch or sizing).  The CON is that you need to be fairly good at needle turn get a good result.

Final impressions...
This is by no means all the methods out there.  But, this grouping is a good representation of the basic techniques available.  I did not find a perfect method.   Each has it's fair share of CONS.  However, each method has great PROS that I can use to my advantage depending on the project and my objectives.  For example, if I have a machine applique project I will use the Gathered over a Mylar Template method.  If I have a community quilt or other project where time is short, I will use the Gathered Around a Mylar Template and Pulled Through a Round Hole  method.  If I am working on a needle turn, hand project I will stick with the Template Free Preparation and Needle Turn method.    Finally, but most importantly, this was a completely unscientific study.  The Pros and Cons are my personal opinion.  The only way to find what works best for you is for you to try techniques on your own. 

I invite you to please leave a comment if you have found this blog entry useful.  Or, if you have a circle technique that you love and would like me to try. I am always looking for way to improve my quilting!

Until next time...

Best stitches,

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I Won an Award!

Yesterday, when I got home and checked my email, I was very shocked to learn that I had won the Stylish Blogger Award! Susan Torrens from Ontario, Canada nominated me. Susan writes The Proficient Needle blog. Thank you Susan! You made my day.

Being the total nerd that I am, I had to research the award and learn as much about it as I could. Of course, there is no information to be found on the origin of the award but lots and lots of Google search hits of past winners. I was surprised that it's not exclusively a Quilting Blog award. Hmmm...Could this be the Blog-o-sphere version of a chain letter - but without the threat of bad luck! And, then I realized "No, it's simply a very nice way to share the blogs you enjoy with others!"

Just like winning a Nobel Prize or being crowned Miss America, the Stylish Blogger Award comes with certain responsibilities. First, you must add the Stylish Blogger Award logo to your site. Check!

Second, you reveal 7 things about yourself to your blog readers. This is tough because after 3 years of blogs I feel like there is nothing much left to say that I haven't already mentions at least twice. But, here goes....

1. As much as I love my dogs, Lucy, Ethel, and Thaddeus (RIP) I never wanted to have any pets. I am allergic to dander and suffer around birds, I grew up terrified of dogs, never cared for cats, and Prada was my idea of Reptile Rescue. Yes, when you grow up in Florida there is such a thing as Reptile Rescue. As a child, all I ever had were fish and as Archie Bunker used to say, "Goldfish are the best pet. They die before you get tired of them." Now, I can't imagine my life without my furry companions and a nice pair of designer pumps with matching handbag!

2. I am a terrible cook! I am a real foodie and I have a beautiful herb and vegetable garden. I give my tomatoes and peppers to my parents - this year's tomatoes are very sweet by the way, and use cuttings from the herbs to scent the kitchen. But, our meals are delivered to our door by a gourmet food service 4-5 days a week.

3. I design databases for a living. I have been an Information Technology professional for 27 years. For the last 17 years, I have specialized in database designs.

4. I love a good story! I read, listen, or watch anything as long as it has a plot and interesting characters. Highbrow, lowbrow, no brow isn't important. It's all about the story. My favorite contemporary writer is Michael Connelly. My favorite writer of all time is John Steinbeck. I can read Cannery Row once a week and always find something new. Right now, I'm reading Quilt As Desired (A Harriet Truman/Loose Threads Mystery) by Arlene Sachitano, Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly, and Fourth of July by James Patterson - love my Kindle. I am listening to The Bourne Identify on audio. In total, I read/re-read/listen/re-listen to about 40 books a year.

5. I inherited my mother's most famous family trait - I can't carry a tune unless it's in a bucket! My little brother suffers from this affliction also. As kids, we had to prepare pageants and songs during holiday time. I remember one year when the young seminarian that was filling in as the choir director had to separate my brother and me because if we sang together it would throw the organist off.

6. My formal education is in visual art. My degree is a Bachelor of Fine Arts - Painting. In graduate school, I majored in drawing. Yes, I build database for a living.

7. Superman is my favorite super hero. No one comes close. Before I met my husband, whenever I would meet a new man, one of the first things I asked them was "Who do you prefer, Superman or Spiderman?" If the guy answered Spiderman he never got a second date. When I asked my husband this question on our first date, his response was "Superman, no one else comes close." I knew right then this was the man I was going to marry!

Check, Check!!

Now for the last instruction...I must select seven blogs to nominate for this award. Without a doubt, these are my favorite blogs. Some are VERY famous so I'm sure you have read them many times, others are not as famous but the work is phenomenal and the content inspiring. Please enjoy!

1. Charlotte Angotti

2. Diane Gaudynski

3. Jeana Kimball

4. Sandra Leichner

5. Jane's Threads and Treasures

6. Miami Threads

7. Secret Sewing Sisterhood

Check, Check, Check!!!

Until next time...

Best stitches,

Mercy in Miami

Saturday, April 9, 2011

What Color Are Leaves?

Striped Leaves
For most of my childhood my definition of heaven was a box of crayons and a coloring book.  When I started first grade my parents splurged and gifted me with my first Crayola 64 box with the built in crayon sharpener.  I remember pulling each crayon out, reading the names, and lining them all up by color.  I loved each and everyone. 

In 1966, in Miami, Florida, on an especially nice afternoon, Sister Christine took the first grade class outside.  She sat us all in circle under a large banyan tree.  She stood in the middle of the circle and held up a crayon drawing of a tree; a brown rectangle topped by three green cotton ball shapes. She then handed each of us a piece of white craft paper and asked us to draw a tree.  Now, I was more of a coloring book type of kid.  I like choosing the colors and staying inside the lines.  I wasn't particularly interested in drawing my own pictures.  (Maybe that's why today I love to buy other designer's patterns and subscribe to BOM's.)  I copied the basic drawing, the rectangle trunk and the cotton ball shaped leave clusters.  I filled in the shapes using every color in my box - all 64 colors!  I remember feeling quite proud of my drawing.  I also remember Sister Christine's shadow falling over my paper and the paper being ripped from my hands.  She held the drawing up to the class and said "Children, please look at this drawing.  This is a perfect example of not listening to your teacher and not following directions."  Then the drawing was torn into several small pieces.  I was given another blank sheet and asked to do the assignment again but this time correctly.  But, we were sitting under a tree!  Couldn't Sister Christine see the colors were all there?  That my drawing was accurate?  Didn't she know that leaves were red and black and orange and brown and pink with only a tiny bit of green?  The trunk was dark red and purple and yellow - see!  I guess she didn't because she didn't accept my assignment until I turned in a brown trunk topped with exactly three, green, cotton boll shapes.

Polka Dot Leaves
Fast forward 45 years. I am here to say, without fear of another unsatisfactory mark in conduct on my report card, LEAVE ARE NOT JUST GREEN and TREE TRUNKS ARE NOT JUST BROWN.  The photo at the top of the blog is of a bromiliad with zebra striped leaves- how cool is that?  How about the polka dot leaves on the right?  They are yellow green with white polka dots on the top of the leaf and bright magenta on the underside of the leaf.

Below is one of my favorite trees in our local botanical garden.  It's a camouflage tree.  The photo does not do it justice.  It is shades of blue, grey, pink, yellow, etc.

Camouflage Tree

Use your imagination and use your stash.  Use the colors, textures, patterns, prints, values, and scale that speaks to your heart and eye.  Make sure that what you stitch brings you joy.  Isn't that why we all started to quilt in the first place? 

Potential Leaf Fabric

I recently took a quick trip to a local quilt shop and  found some interesting fabrics to use for leaves.  My guidelines for buying fabric is "If you love it buy it"  and "If you use enough variety of fabrics, they all go together" 

This was specifically an applique fabric finding trip.  I found water fabric, sail fabric for a clipper ship. a great red for berries, lace print, very small checks, and multi-colored ric rac for gathered flowers.  My chauffeur ( and wonderful husband) fell in love with the Superman fabric.  I will make a couple of pillowcases for his man cave. 
Quilt Shop Finds

20 1/2 Inch Square Ruler

However, the FIND of the trip was a 20-1/2 inch square ruler.  Unless you are an appliquer you can't appreciate the pure joy of this find.  I am a Baltimore style applique enthusiast.  The original blocks were in a large scale - 18 inch to 20 inch or more finished size.  I also like to have the option of a larger scale block.  For 2 years I have been working on a quilt made up of 13 - 18 inch blocks set on point.  I have had more than one sleepless night fretting about how I was going to square up and trim a block that size (on point) when the largest square ruler I had ever found locally was 16-1/2 inches.  I actually did a happy dance right in the store. 

Here are a few more photos from our local botanical garden.  I find them very inspiring. 

Until next time,

Best stitches,
Mercy in Miami

Lucy and Ethel

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

If you need to get something done, you ask a busy person to do it...hmmmm

Happy Spring everyone!

I sincerely hope each one of you has been healthy and happy during my blogging hiatus. It has been a trying winter but everything seems to be back on course and I am finally able to devote a little time to my blog.

So without further ado, let’s talk quilts!

They say that if you need to get something done, you ask a busy person to do it. Hmmm. I never really understood this quote until I found myself with a husband, a home, a demanding job, pets, parents, and a passion to quilt. Then I understood – the busy person knows how to organize and prioritize. And, let’s face it, that seems to be the only way things get done. Now, I am NOT the poster child for getting projects finished but I do manage to get a little quilting in almost every day and thought I would share some of my organizing tips.

Tip 1 – Maintain a Project To Do List. I know – very scary. The first time I did this several years ago, I had over 30 quilt projects listed. This included small items such as finishing a binding, or adding a label to a quilt back, and big items such as designing my own Baltimore Album Quilt. The latter is still on my list by the way. Today, my list is a little longer (hahah) but I don’t worry about that. I use the list as a tool to organize the projects by technique, by what stage each one is at, and by due date if any has a deadline. I then select the top project in each category/stage and setup a workstation for each one. This brings me to Tip 2.

Tip 2 – Setup Workstations. Currently, I am blessed with a large workspace that I can leave set up to sew at any time. Previously, my “workstations” were plastic project bins. The idea is to have everything to you need to work on a project all in one place so that if you only have a few minutes, you don’t spend them gathering your tools.

Current portable applique project - sometimes I only get half a grape sewn.
Tip 3 – No amount of time is too little to sew. Just a few minutes here and there all add up to progress.

Blue Moon in progress - Design and kit by Charlotte Angotti

What my sewing room looks like now….

Workstation One is setup for piecing. The project is a WONDERFUL laser cut kit by Charlotte Angotti called Blue Moon.

Charlotte Angotti's quilt, Blue Moon

I must digress here and put in a plug for precut kits – they are the cat’s meow. This is the first laser cut kit I have ever worked with and to quote Scarlett O’Hara “God as my witness, I will never cut fabric again!” Okay, maybe that isn’t the exact quote. But, it’s wonderful to stitch. John Flynn cuts the kits to Charlotte’s specification using fabric she provides. The laser burns the cut line into the fabric so the edges are seared – NO raveling – and accurate to within the width of a human hair. Even more wonderful, the Flynn’s provide this service for us regular folk too. You can pack up your fabric, mail it off to Kate Flynn, tell them what you want; they cut it, and mail it back. How wonderful is that? And what a great time saver!

Workstation Two is setup for machine appliqué. The project is The Planets. My college-age cousin came down during her spring break with a photo from the internet of a quilt she wanted to make. Of course, there was no pattern to be found so we made it up as we went along. After Meagan picked all her fabrics from my stash, I taught her how to prepare the planets and rings using the templar and Starch method. I appliquéd the unit using Sew Art invisible thread in both the bobbin and top. I set a very narrow and short blind hem stitch. I left everything set up for her to continue in May after the school term is over.
The Planet in progress - block 1 stitched, 19 more planets and rings waiting to be prepped
 Workstation Three is setup for cutting. Again, waiting for Meagan to return and cut the strips for The Planet quilt border.

Workstation Four is setup for handwork. This includes a great light, a comfortable chair, the best view of the TV, and all handwork supplies within easy reach. The individual projects are stored in plastic bins and Ziploc bags. This way I can pull out the project I would like to work on and have all my tools handy. While at the workstation, I usually work on prep tasks that I can’t do elsewhere easily. I save the things that I can do outside of the sewing room for when we watch TV in the family room or sit outside by the pool.


As soon as Meagan visits in May and finishes The Planet quilt, Workstation Two will be transformed into a piecing workstation and Workstation One will become a machine quilting workstation. I know exactly the machine-quilting project I will be working on because it’s at the top of my Project To Do List!

In early December, we lost the world’s best fabric guard dog, Thaddeus. Although he lived a short life (21 months), we loved and spoiled him beyond measure. 
Thaddeus Malloy Savage March 13, 2009 – December 9, 2010

Later in December, Santa Claus brought me two little girls. Lucy and Ethel are sisters from the same litter born October 14, 2010. Here they are shortly after they arrived.

Lucy and Ethel at 10 weeks
They are now at 6 months old. They love keeping me company in the sewing room. I believe Ethel has an affinity for quilting because every time I turn around she is chewing on a fat quarter she swiped from my stash. Batiks are her favorite.
Lucy and Ethel at 5 months
Until next time...
Best stitches,
Mercy in Miami