Sunday, May 1, 2016

Blue Cross, Blue Shield: A Modern Upcycled Jeans Quilt Tutorial (Part I)

Piecing done, quilting to come:

Yes it's a Modernish Gee's Bend-inspired denim jeans quilt top!

My latest denim kick started a couple of weeks ago when I got the idea that I wanted to play around with denim crosses. I love plus signs/crosses because they are so graphic, and a little bit poignant (Math class made me cry.)

The very next thing that happened was that the phrase "Blue Cross, Blue Shield" lodged itself in my brain. Let me tell you, as bad as it is to get an Abba song stuck in your head, a health insurance company name earworm is worse. So I knew the title of this quilt from the start.

But what would a blue shield look like? I was about to deadlift my massive encyclopedia of 4.000 quilt blocks (no affiliation) when the solution suddenly came to me: JEANS BACK POCKETS ARE SHAPED LIKE SHIELDS! Problem solved! No heavy research  or lifting required!


To attach the pockets I have developed my own little system (though I am open to hearing about other methods).  I start with the pocket....

Cut everything away except about 3/4" on top. (I cut this sample a bit too close on the upper left.):
 Yes, the back layers, on the sides and bottom, are raw edged, but that's okay with me. (If I really wanted to prevent fraying, I would drip fray-check on the cut edges).
Test fold that upper edge back and down, in the position you want on the background fabric.
 Carefully flip open and pin..
Stitch across the back, using a zipper foot if necessary. This can be tricky - you must navigate the  line close to, but not through, the thick top edge of the pocket. If you don't have a zipper foot, you might not be able to do this step on your machine. That's okay - you can do it by hand, or not at all (skip the next step if you can't do this one.)
Stitch from end to end. I did a basting stitching white thread just so you could see it here - you should obviously use a regular stitch and matching thread.
 Flip it back down in position.
Machine or hand stitch carefully across the fold at the top, for extra insurance. It's the white line just below the top:
 In real life, I couldn't use my machine for that final horizontal line of stitching. I did it by hand with strong quilting/buttonhole thread. In the next picture, it's the line of navy thread just below the back top of the pocket:

Another example: note the dents made by handstitching on top of the back:


The final step is to topstitch the sides and bottom of the pocket in a U shape. My sewing machine struggles with multiple denim layers, so I sometimes have to start and stop stitching just below the top right and left corners. (In those cases, I hand tack the upper part of the corners in position. Fabric glue works too). With a strong sewing machine, you can do the entire U. Below, I used a white thread and basting stitch for demonstration purposes only. You can place your stitches as far in or out as you like.
This pocket attachment method will work for a zillion different quilts and upcycled jeans crafts. (Got time? Google: "Blue jeans craft project")

Making the cross blocks is pure fun. I started with 8" - 10" imperfect square shapes, cut from varying shades of denim. Use a rotary cutter or a scissors - but don't use your ruler! Start with a square, cut one direction and piece a strip inside. (My strips are 1 1/2" - 2 1/2")
I press the seam allowances open, to reduce the bulk. (I wouldn't do this if I were working with quilting cotton.)
Cut in the other direction .
Piece in the next strip, and press those allowances open.
So now you can make your own Blue Cross, Blue Shield quilt! I wound up liking the back as much as the front. I almost decided not to quilt it, because I wanted to be able to see the back....
But quilt it I did. It is about to get very heavy, even heavier than my encyclopedia of quilt blocks. Next week: Quilting the Beast! 

Addendum: It was only after I'd finished laying out the top that I realized where my denim cross idea probably came from - in January, at QuiltCon 2016, the top prize went to a haunting white-and-blue memorial quilt, which included denim crosses. It's #4 on this page. I suspect that quilt must have been working its way through my unconscious when I got hooked on the "Blue Cross Blue Shield" concept....

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Party in the Borders: A Precut-Friendly Half-Modern Quilt Tutorial

Hot off the sewing machine! A quilt that, in the center, is disciplined, measured, pretty ordinary - pretty print, ordinary layout.
So I threw a party in the borders...
Yes, thanks to borders, you too can be modern and traditional in the same quilt! Calm and explosive! 90 degrees and 37! You get the idea!

This hybrid can be achieved with 2-3 sets of precuts:
1. A stack of print squares - I used 6", but any size works
2. A roll of  colorful strips, at least 2" wide
3. Plenty of white fabric (precut strips or yardage)

My squares were from Terrie Mangat's Bee's Knees line, (Terrie is a fiber artist whose work I have long admired.)
  One of  my favorite squares, closeup: 
(Swoon. Disregard thread bits.) They're so great that, of course, I couldn't cut them up. With this strategy, I didn't have to.

Purchase a set of strips, or cut your own. For an earlier blog post, I showed off my economical home-made "jelly roll" consisting of 2" strips. (The roll-your-own tutorial is here.)
If you buy a roll, they'll be 2 1/2" strips (and they'll have pinked edges, so they won't shed threads like mine.)

I  cut those strips down to 6” (i.e. same length as the squares). I needed 58 strip segments for 24 print squares. Those strips become the sashing. I cut 35 white squares to 2" x 2" (2 1/2" for purchased strips). These are the sashing corners. 

I arranged the print squares, the sashing strips, and the white squares on my design wall. Once satisfied with the color placement, I started sewing things together. 
Next, I tested well-behaved grey-and-white borders, over on the left.
Meh. I needed to cut loose. Here are some of the improvisational blocks I wound up creating. 
And there they are in the quilt.

For the corners, I made the same  blocks, but with a reversed color scheme: 

The Border Tutorial Starts Here, Plus a Rant

Would you like to make these fun and explosive border blocks? The easiest way by far - the method that saves the most time and fabric - would be to start with a white square, then fuse and stitch down the colorful triangles and squares. If you're a normal person and/or are experiencing a fabric shortage, I strongly suggest you go that route. 

But if you're a quilt geek with a plump stash, why would you ever take the easy way out, when you can work so much harder and use up so much more fabric? 

Here's the rant: Improvisational piecing sounds like you’re going to throw a party in your sewing room, ignore rulers, slosh cocktails perilously close to the feed dogs, and deliberately cut off-kilter shapes with scissors in your non-dominant hand, while dancing to Lady Gaga.

Indeed, cutting and sewing unusual angles starts out liberating. But as the quilt grows, the task becomes exponentially more difficult. You've been warned! (End rant.)

Begin with a bunch of more-or-less 2” strips from white fabrics. (If' using precuts, 2 1/2" works in all these directions.)

Then hand-cut colorful squares from precut solid color strips, making them a little wonky.

Surround the uneven central square with white strips, then cut at an angle. It should have four sides but doesn't have to be a perfect square (like this one). 
Set this aside.

Next, freehand cut more colorful squares from the precut strips, and cut those squares in half on the diagonal, to create triangles like the pink ones below.

Surround the triangles with the white strips, which will eat up a phenomenal amount of the white fabric. Start by sewing one edge of the triangles to a white strip. Leave enough space between them so that when you trim them, you can cut all the way to the edge. 

Add a strip to the next side, log cabin style. 
Press open, then trim the excess: 
Add the third side and stitch. 
Open and trim. 
Make two of those triangles for each border block. Set them aside.

Now back to the center of the border blocks. Fetch that wonky-cut square that you surrounded with white strips. Add another piece (I used yellow for clarity) to one side. 
Add one of the triangles cut from the colorful strips to one edge.  That's the lavender triangle below. 
Flip the triangle open. Stitch a strip to the next side. Below, I'm lining it up to make sure it's long enough. Stitch the new strip face down to the purple triangle and yellow strip underneath.
Once sewn, flip open and trim as shown. 
Straighten the side edge even with the edge of the central square. 
Add a strip to the right side: 
Stitch and flip open: 
Trim off that top edge and the side. 
Now it looks like this: 
Repeat the procedure on the opposite side, until you have something like this: 
Add the triangular assemblies to both sides: 
Stitch the three units together: 
Trim each of the four edges straight, but resist that urge to square them up!
If it's lopsided, you did it right! Keep it that way! I know, it's so hard!

For the grey barriers between border blocks, piece a long 6"wide  strip with white strips on top and bottom, then cut them down to about 2" wide:
Slightly trim along one edge so that one end is narrower than the other. 
Stitch it to one side of a border block, placing it so that its wider end is next to the narrowest end of the block: 
(See how the wider end of the grey strip lines up with the narrower south end of the block?)

You could now sew that block to the grey strip. But by eyeballing my border sizes - and then, yes, measuring carefully - I discovered I needed to insert a plain white strip to both sides of each grey strip. 

Make the corner blocks the same way, except reverse the colors.
Make a row, flipping the grey strips consecutively, to create a more or less straight row of blocks for each border. Next comes the moment of truth, and you may have to do some cruel chopping, or insertion of white strips, to make it fit. You will find yourself measuring as diligently as you would for traditional piecing.
Once you've joined a bunch of squares that are long enough for a side, you must cut at least one edge straight - the edge that will meet the central design. It's up to you whether you also want the outer edge straight or wonky. I finally cut the outer edges straight.
To make the binding, I threw some more of my colored 2" strips up on the design wall, and interspersed them with white strips of randomly varied widths.
Stitched, then cut across to create the binding strips:  
The more you know what you are doing, the harder it is to be wonky. When I was first making these blocks I managed to surround a square with FIVE triangles instead of four. I can’t even remember how I did this. 
But as I made more of them, I stopped making mistakes like this. My blocks became less entertaining and more regular. Creating random variations on the spot requires constant vigilance! If you work at it hard enough, with meticulous attention to detail, you will succeed in appearing careless! Or not. Or maybe just in the borders.