A tale of two quilts

Monday, January 25, 2016

When I found out that two friends are both expecting babies in March, my first thought was "yay, I get to make more quilts!"

Since Ryan has been good friends with both couples for many years, he wanted to help out, so off we went to My Sewing Room to choose fabrics. This store is amazing, by the way. We probably spent an hour wandering through the kid's fabrics, and came out with the following selection:

This is what happens when you bring a man to a fabric store without a plan.
These quilts might end up a bit nuts.

Because I started working on these quilts really late the fabrics are so busy, I decided to keep it simple with the design. Inspired by a quilt at the shop, I began playing around with simple square blocks with sashing in Inkscape, an open source vector graphics program that I used to make most of the diagrams in my thesis. This turned out to be a great tool for quilt design - you can basically draw, cut up, and rearrange shapes exactly the way you would with fabric.

Quilt #1

The first attempt looked a little too busy, to say the least:

If it's this crazy in solids, what'll it look like with prints?

The second design was more similar to the one I saw at the shop and included a bit more negative space for your eyes to rest:

A less distressing layout

This became the layout for the first quilt, and I really liked how it looked once I added the borders:

Finished quilt top #1!

I quilted it in a big lazy meander to keep it soft. I haven't done any free motion quilting for a while, and I'd forgotten how fun it is! Especially on a 40" square baby quilt, this came together really quickly. This was also my first project using Aurifil, and I never thought that thread could make so much difference. I didn't have a single thread breakage or snarl and it just felt smoother, though perhaps I need to do a blind test to make sure I'm not just influenced by the price tag.

Large scale meandering
For the borders I used an orange print that has the same print as the blue. I was going to use blue in one quilt and orange in the other, but that turned out to be too much orange with the sashing. Fortunately, I forgot to buy border fabric so I could use the orange footprint for my borders. I was also a bit tight in calculating my yardage requirements - check out this overlap:

Next time I'll add a bit more margin of error
Finally, I put a little label on the back. I just wrote on a scrap of white using a Pigma Micron pen. I was impressed with how well it wrote on the relatively rough fabric, and it survived the first wash nicely. For some reason I really like the look of big running stitches, so that's what I used to sew the label on. I really should try out sashiko some day...

Baby Lund doesn't have a name yet :-)

Quilt #2

For the second quilt I wanted to do something similar, but not identical. I went back to Inkscape and basically just rotated everything by 45 degrees:

Design for quilt #2
To create this layout I kept the same size squares as quilt #1, but I shrunk the sashing a bit. The final design is only 32" square so it needs borders, but I figured enough with the drawing board, I want to cut this out!

I ended up shifting the blocks so that the blue was the dominant colour, not the green. It's the least "noisy" of the prints so I think it makes sense for it to be more prevalent, though I am using lots of blue for a baby girl (gasp!).

The final layout
I haven't done a lot of quilting with triangles and bias edges, so it was quite satisfying when it lined up nicely:

Alignment yay!
However, all those bias edges gave me a bit of grief when it came to adding borders. I also blame some issues I had with this orange fabric. It's Andover Chambray, which adds a nice textural element and is a bit more interesting than a plain solid, but for some reason I could not cut it on the straight of grain. I usually align the grain using this method but no matter what I did the grain just seemed... off. I basically gave up and just cut it perpendicular to the fold, but the ultimate result was detrimental to my borders:

Wobbly borders :-(
Fortunately, the folks over at the Calgary modern quilt guild offered up some good advice on dealing with excess border fabric, so I went ahead and quilted in lines radiating outwards from the middle:

Border quilting detail

My pictures are a little out of order here, because I also wanted to show my binding. For quilt #1 I did my first machine-stitched binding and while it worked okay, I didn't do the best job stitching in the ditch. I don't have a proper foot for it, but for quilt #2 I tried using the blind hemmer foot. This worked pretty well!

Using a blind hemmer foot to stitch in the ditch
 It still isn't quite as nice as a hand-sewn binding, but is probably more durable and certainly a lot faster if you're on a deadline. The baby shower was midday Saturday and I finished binding this quilt, added a label, and stuffed it in the wash at around 9 PM Friday.

A final picture of quilt #2
I had a lot of fun making two matching quilts! I hope the babies enjoy them.

Notebook pen holder

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

This barely counts as a sewing project, but I'm going to share it anyway.

I have a fancy paper notebook (specifically, this one) and a fancy pen (okay, it's engraved "Ryan", but I've been using it for the past two years). I don't want to lose this pen, so I made a little holder for it last year, and this year I made an improved version.


  • a 2.5" square scrap of fabric
  • a 2" square scrap of fusible interfacing
  • superglue
  • a sewing machine with fancy stitches (optional)

Like I said, it barely counts as a sewing project. Realistically, you could accomplish the same thing with just glue and fabric, or even duct tape if you like to live dangerously.

First, fuse the interfacing to the centre of the square, leaving 1/4" on each edge:

This particular fabric is quite thick, so I cut the corners off to try to fold them in better. I'm sure there's a better way to do this, because as you'll see in my next picture, I'm left with tiny raw edges (gasp!). It's okay, it's just a pen holder. Anyway, fold in that quarter inch seam allowance, press it in place, and stitch all the way around:

I also chose to use my sewing machine's alphanumeric stitch capabilities to mark the year of this notebook. This is maybe the second legitimate use I've had for those stitches.

Finally, use superglue to attach both edges of the square to the sides of the notebook at the spine. Use your pen to figure out how far onto the front cover the edges should be glued - mine is about a centimetre past the square part of the edge:

As an aside, I really like this notebook. It's from Peter Pauper Press and is half the price of the Moleskin equivalent with thicker paper.

Here's my shiny new completed pen holder, on top of last year's notebook:

My new pen holder on my new notebook, on top of last year's inferior version.
Last year's version didn't have the interfacing, and it definitely stretched out over the course of the year. It did work though, in case you don't happen to have a selection of different interfacings in your drawer.

And finally, a note on notebooks.

As I used to tell first year students, engineers should keep paper notebooks. However, I wasn't always good at it myself. My entire master's degree fits in one small hardcover book, and the first half of my PhD is scattered between a number of different software solutions (like Evernote and OneNote) and another paper notebook. My main issue was consistency: I would take notes during meetings and when planning out new projects, but I would go weeks with nothing recorded. I think I had this notion that something had to be "important" enough to put it in a pretty book rather than just scribbled on scrap paper.

Sometime around Fall 2014 I was seriously struggling with productivity (apparently common, as depicted by this comic). I ran across the Bullet Journal concept of combining a journal with a task list, and for some reason this made a lot of sense to me. I began writing down a list of things to do each day and that was enough to get me in the habit of actually using my paper notebook, and I've been using mine ever since. It jumps around between personal and work, and I kept the same book when I started my new job, but I find having everything in one place makes me much more likely to use it.

If I ever need to submit my notebook for a legitimate engineering purpose, hopefully there's no confusion between sewing designs and algorithm ideas.

Blog revival: Now with more quilts

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Hello, 2016. I think it's time to start blogging again.

Since I last wrote anything here (back when I was obsessed with transportation), a lot has happened. Ryan and I bought a house, adopted a dog and a cat, and got engaged. I also finished my PhD and got a new job, but most significantly, I bought a sewing machine.

I didn't really have quilting in mind when I decided to start sewing again, but then I added a collection of random fat quarters to my cart when I bought some supplies online. They became my first quilt:

My first quilt
I would probably never have chosen these fabrics, my seams don't match, and the final quilt is too small for any adult human, but I was oddly excited to cut up bits of fabric and put them back together again.

Since this first endeavour I've made a smattering of other quilts, a couple of bags, some dresses, and numerous other projects began but not completed. My list of things I want to make is growing out of hand, so I might as well add to the workload and blog about it. I also joined the Calgary Modern Quilt Guild and signed up for the Mighty Lucky Quilting Club a couple weeks ago, so I'm looking forward to sharing my quilting adventures with quilty friends.

There is one non-quilty Thing to Make that looms large, however: my wedding dress. I anticipate much of this blog, if I write anything at all, will be spent on the creation of my wedding dress.

The wedding dress plan

I have two dresses that I want to incorporate into my dress: my mum's and my grandmother's (known by me as Grandben). My great-grandmother's dress is also hanging in a closet somewhere in New England, but I'm not sure if I have the nerve to cut into it. In any case, these two are now in my possession:

My mum's dress - 1976
Grandben's dress - 1940-something
My mum's dress (handmade by her!) is made of a nice soft flowy silk that has more or less kept its colour and shape. Grandben's, on the other hand, has suffered somewhat over the years. I don't know what colour it was originally but it seems to have yellowed considerably and the tulle is full of holes. It's also made of a rather stiff and (dare I say) unpleasant feeling manufactured fabric. Given the age and the feel, I would guess that it's acetate. It also appears to have been stored in a trunk somewhere, though just a few months hanging has reduced many of the wrinkles seen above.

Two components I'm thinking of scrounging from Grandben's dress are the lace and the buttons. The lace is cotton and in quite good, if yellowed, condition. The buttons also seem to be in good shape, and there are many of them. I didn't bother doing the dress up, but here's a terrible backlit photo of the back of the dress that also shows the lace a bit more:

The many buttons of Grandben's dress
And that's about as far as I've gotten with the dress making. I also dragged Andrea out to David's Bridal to try things on to see what looks good, and I think she'll do a good job of making sure I don't end up with something too boring. Or too ridiculous, like this dress I made for high school grad:

My high school grad dress. I don't think this was ever stylish.