Monday, 13 March 2017

Pressing Matters!

When it comes to electrical appliances that help you become a better quilter, your iron is second only to your sewing machine. As boring as it seems, your ironing technique is critical to the quality of your finished quilt products – the more care you take with your pressing, the better your quilts will be. Embroiderers will tell you that the back of your work should look as neat as the front when it comes to embroidery, and the same can be said for quilting. Even though nobody will see the back of your quilt blocks once they’re in a quilt sandwich, it is important that they are as neat as possible. The reason for this is that it helps the blocks lie as flat as possible, which makes them sit better in the finished quilt and makes the quilting process easier. Of course, like anything with quilting, there are differing opinions on proper pressing techniques – steam or dry?, open or to the side?, press or iron?.... And there are no hard and fast rules, there is a time and a place for all these things.

set up
Let’s begin with your ironing set up. Start with the best iron you can afford. A cheapy from the supermarket isn’t going to perform as well, or last as long as a top quality iron. Look for brands you’ve heard of, the ones who have been making irons for years and treat your iron as a quilting investment. Also choose the biggest, sturdiest ironing board you can find. I like extra wide, and if you can find one that is long enough to fit a full width of fabric on it, you’ll save time. Again, it’s worth spending the money on a quality board. Ironing board covers may need to be replaced fairly regularly, this can be done relatively cheaply. Just pop your new cover straight over the old one for extra padding. There are also some great tutorials online for custom made pressing tables if you’ve got the space. One of my favourite internet hacks was to make a pressing table from a folding TV table – it’s handy to have a portable pressing table you can put next to your machine when you’re piecing blocks and need to press lots of seams.

press, don’t iron
The difference between pressing and ironing is critical when quilting. Ironing involves pushing the iron across the fabric, flattening it as you go. Fine for clothing but it can cause distortion with quilt blocks. Pressing involves placing the iron down on a section of fabric, holding it to flatten the area, then lifting it up again and moving to the next area – you are not pushing across the fabric, causing stretch. Occasionally you might iron large pieces of fabric to get creases out of them, but for the most part it is important to press rather than iron.

when to press
In short: all the time. It sounds tedious, but pressing every step of the way yields better results. Ideally, you should press your fabric before you first cut from it (even if it looks pretty good). If you prewash, press it while it’s still slightly damp to get all the creases out. As you’re sewing your blocks, you should set every seam giving it a quick press while still right sides together. Then you should
press your seams flat from the back, either open or to one side. Every time you do a new set of
seams, you should be pressing them in place before you add the next step.

If you need to unpick a seam, reach for the iron again – set the seam flat again before unpicking, and then press it flat after ripping the stitches. And beyond block construction, you should also press all your border and sashing fabrics, as well as your backing fabric. Batting benefits from a good press (this can be done straight on the floor when it’s a quilt sandwich). Press your quilt top well before basting it also. And binding is obviously pressed as it’s being made, but if you also press it over after you’ve sewn it down on one side of the quilt you’ll also get a crisper finish.

starch, steam, dry?
This comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer a steam iron, others like a dry iron with a spray bottle of water handy. Sometimes steam can burn your fingers, particularly when pressing seams open, so this is a good time to reach for the bottle of water. Starch is another personal preference. I love a good spray of starch, particularly with fiddly little blocks and English paper piecing, when I want a really crisp seam. A spray of starch gives a nice finish to any block. Spray your block liberally, then give it a bit of time to air dry, then iron it. One thing to note: starch build up on your iron’s sole plate can transfer to your fabric, causing marks, so it’s important to wipe down your iron regularly.

open or to the side?
There are few controversies in the quilting world as great as which way to press your seams. Traditionally, it’s said that pressing to the side reduces pressure on the seams, but it is increasingly common to press open, too. Our rule of thumb is to do what is required for the block. I love how flat half square triangle units sit when pressed open, but most of the time I press to one side as I find it quicker and easier. You’ll often hear about pressing to the dark side (say this in a Darth Vader voice for full effect). The theory here is that the seams from dark fabrics will show through more on light fabrics, even with the buffer of the light seam allowance first. Pressing seams open eliminates this quandary, but it is worth taking the time to see if you need to press away from the light. If you plan to hand quilt, you need to decide how you’re going to quilt before your press – if you plan to quilt just inside edges, you’re going to want as little seam bulk on those seams as possible.

case study: success vs hot mess
In the interest of public education, I test made two simple nine patch blocks. For one, I pressed the fabric before I cut, set every seam, carefully pressed as I went and made note of how my pressing affected my seams. The completed block sat very flat with perfect seam intersections and a neat back. The other didn’t see the iron at any stage, and I didn’t pay attention to how the seams were sitting as I sewed over them. Even when I pressed this second block at the end, it wouldn’t sit straight and would be difficult to quilt over in a finished quilt, even if you couldn’t see how horrible the back looked.
Pressing matters!

-- JK

Aussie Hero Quilts

Nearly two years ago we shared a story on Aussie Hero Quilts but after seeing their recent call for help, we've decided to share the story again in a more public forum in the hope that it reaches more of you. Plus it was announced this week that over 7000 quilts and 13000 laundry bags have been delivered thanks to Aussie Hero Quilts and that deserves to celebrated!

Sometimes you just want to make a quilt. Sometimes you don’t have a recipient in mind, or a plan – you just want to make something lovely to make someone happy, even if that someone is a stranger. This is how I felt recently so I decided to revisit a charity I’d heard about – Aussie Hero Quilts. Let tell you a little about them, and it might touch your quilty heart too.

Aussie Hero Quilts sends handmade quilts and laundry bags, made by quilters all over Australia, to our deployed service men and women overseas. This includes personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as well as one of the ships deployed in the Middle East, and the United Nations Peacekeepers in South Sudan, Eqypt and Israel. In sending these quilts and laundry bags, it’s a way for us civilians to say thank you and show our appreciation for all that our Aussie servicemen and women do for our country. What can be better than that? These men and women sacrifice a lot, being away from the family and their everyday life, to serve our country. It seems a small thing to send them a quilt as a way of saying thank you. Plus, it’s a fantastic excuse to sew (because we all need that, right?!).

I was really interested in the work that Aussie Heroes do and decided to become a part of it. A quick look into the blog and Facebook page, and I sent an email off to Jan-Maree Ball, the founder. She has been an amazing help for a newcomer and her passion for what she does is absolutely contagious. This charity does such an amazing job – it seems only right to spread the word and tell our fabulous readers about them.

I asked Jan-Maree about why she had started Aussie Hero Quilts. She explained that there were a few reasons behind the decision. “One day I heard about a soldier in a rehab hospital who was injured in Afghanistan, and whilst in the hospital in Germany, he was given a red, white and blue Hero Quilt by the Americans so that he would not be the only man in the ward without a quilt. I was deeply touched by the generosity of the Americans, but was ashamed that there was nothing from his own country for him. I am really pleased to say that he is a good friend of mine now and has one of our quilts himself. He uses it all the time.” On a more personal level, (and I found this resonated with me too), one of Jan-Maree’s reasons for Aussie Heroes was due to a part of our Australian history that we’re perhaps not so proud of. “Although I was only young at the time, I’ve always felt ashamed of the way our Vietnam Vets were treated when they came home. One of my quilt recipients told me that he had friends who wished they had never come back to Australia because of the way they were treated. We cannot, must not ever let that happen again.”

The Aussie Heroes motto is ‘We care about the people, not the politics or the mission’. This resounded deeply with me. Regardless of the reasons for our troops being in various parts of the world, it seems so important that we Aussies appreciate what they do for us, and support them in whatever way we can. If it means getting creative and making a quilt (or laundry bag), then that seems like a fabulous way to show our appreciation.

The defence member or families on their behalf send a request for a quilt or laundry bag to Aussie Heroes. While they can’t always be guaranteed a personalised item, requests are welcome and the quilters involved endeavour to meet these. Jan-Maree sends out a request list once a week to interested quilters, listing each quilt/laundry bag request (with details such as favourite colours, hobbies or interests). A quilter chooses which one they would like to make and lets Jan-Maree know. From that point there’s usually five or six weeks to get the quilt or laundry bag (or both) made and sent directly to the recipient.

I must admit to being rather excited when I received the first request list! So many items to choose from, though in the end I chose a sports team (even though I’m certainly not an avid sports follower myself!). I love the idea of being able to tackle a bit of a challenge and make a quilt to brighten up someone’s day. With the request being for something ‘Port Adelaide’, I decided to simplify the logo and ended up with a rather striking quilt in teal, black and white. Not being a sports fan, I deferred to some of my Adelaidian friends to ensure that it was actually recognisable as representing the Port Adelaide team. Fortunately they said yes! In my enthusiasm for making something for Aussie Heroes, I talked it up quite a bit to some of my quilty friends – next thing our lovely Editor Jane was on board too! Jane took a request for ‘blue and white’ and came up with a design using up a good portion of blue scraps, and some simple applique to make a beautiful, patriotic quilt.

I asked Jan-Maree about the best sorts of quilts to make for Aussie Heroes. Jan-Maree explained that it is easier when people take requests directly from the lists. “The fact that someone that the troops don’t know has taken the time to make something specifically for them really makes them feel special and appreciated.” If you perhaps can’t manage something specific, then a masculine or gender neutral quilt is welcome – not so much of the girly quilts though. If you’re after colour guidance – blue is the most requested, along with Australian themed quilts (think Australian flag, Southern Cross or Aussie animals). Even if you’re still new to quilting, you’re very welcome to be involved. There are quilters from all levels of expertise involved so don’t let your level of quilting put you off!

There are specific guidelines for the size of the quilts to be sent to Aussie Heroes – so it’s not a case of rehoming quilts that you have already made. The quilts are made and sized specifically to fit into a Bx2 sized post box so that you can post them for free – anything posted to the members serving overseas under 2kg is free. Aussie Hero Quilts are sized to be the width of the fabric so about 42". The length should be between 70" and 75". Best part about that sizing? No need to piece together a backing for the quilt! (Okay maybe that’s just me, but that’s my least favourite part about quilting!) You can read more about the specifics for making the quilts on the blog.

While this is the first quilt I have made for Aussie Hero Quilts, it certainly won’t be my last. It is something special that quilters can do as a way of thanking someone we don’t know, but who has put everything on the line in their service to our country. When asked about her favourite part of running Aussie Hero Quilts, Jan-Maree summed it up beautifully – “It is a very powerful thing to wake up each morning and devote your time to doing something that you are passionate about. It is also wonderful to know that what you do is appreciated. I guess the best part is just simply knowing that what we do makes a big difference to the service men and women who are deployed. We are bringing them a bit of home and a reminder that the general public supports them and appreciates what they are doing. I always tell the quilters that you cannot really understand how much what we do means to the troops until you see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices and feel it in their hugs.”

-- KL

(Photos supplied by Jan-Maree from Aussie Hero Quilts)

Friday, 10 February 2017

Sew Your Stash

We’re going to make a sweeping generalisation here and assume that if you’re reading this, you’re a fan of fabric. And that you take pride in your stash, which may contain more fabric than you could possibly turn into quilts in the next year (or five). But despite all this, you will more than likely buy more fabric for the stash over the coming year. Can I see a show of hands?

Here at Make Modern, we are huge fabric lovers. We buy it, pet it, sometimes even sew with it. But a lot of it goes straight to the stash, where it stays (in some cases, in OCD colour coded glory). In previous posts, we’ve talked about maintaining a workable stash and organising your scraps. But all of that is null and void if you don’t actual USE the fabric you’ve got, which is why we’re talking about sewing your stash.

It seems simple enough… buy fabric, then use it. But it’s not always that easy. Sometimes we snap up the must-have bundle of the moment while it’s still available or we buy something for a specific project but don’t get around to sewing it up. Sometimes the lure of a big sale sucks us into buying things we don’t really need. Often we deem certain fabrics too precious to cut. All these factors contribute to having a stash that is bigger than any one quilter can manage. End result: you’ve got so much fabric that it’s guilt-inducing and overwhelming. This is why it’s important to take a long, hard look at your stash and actually use it. A commitment to sew from your stash isn’t as strict as a fabric diet, but it does force you to look to what you already own and be a little creative with your supplies.

organise your fabric
It goes without saying that if your fabric storage is in a state of disarray, it’ll be harder to sew from your stash. We’ve covered this extensively in previous issues so won’t go into too much detail now, but it is important to get that stash in order. This is your first plan of attack. Once your fabric is in order, it’s time to do something much more fun – pull some fabrics! Even if you don’t have a particular plan in mind, take a few minutes to pull some fabrics that work together. Explore new colour schemes. Mix and match things you wouldn’t normally put together. Pull out your treasured bundles. Take pictures of your fabric pulls on your phone and store them for later inspiration, then when there’s a particular project you need to make, you can pull up your pictures and see if you’ve got the perfect fabric selection already thought out. This is a great exercise to help you really understand and appreciate what’s in your stash.

ditch the ‘precious’ attitude
We all have precious fabrics in the stash. Maybe it’s out of print and valuable. Or it’s something you truly adore. Sometimes, the very thought of cutting into that fabric is terrifying. But here’s the thing: the purpose of fabric is to cut it up and use it. Take a look at your most favourite fabrics and come up with a plan for them. Make it something special just for you. When you’re sleeping under a quilt featuring your favourite fabrics every night, then it’s going to be more special than having that fabric on the shelf. The same goes for using fabric for things like home accessories, cushions or kids quilts that might suffer a lot of wear or tear. We’re not saying you turn your Liberty stash into potholders, but other than that, almost anything in your stash is fair game to become useful items around the home. If they wear out eventually, that’s okay – just make more (from the stash) and remember the joy you had using things made from your favourite fabrics and how much nicer they were than store-bought.

use your resources
Your stash extends beyond your fabric collection. It’s also threads, floss, zippers, buttons, books and magazines. All of these are valuable items that cost money, so make an effort to use them up. Before you race out and buy a zipper, button or thread, look in the stash to make sure there’s nothing else you can use. It’s useful to be a little resourceful in your fabric choices too. Sometimes you can alter a pattern to use what you have on hand. Perhaps you have a project that requires two yards of a low volume background print – before you race out and buy two yards of a single print, consider whether you could use the four half-yard pieces you have in the stash. A bit of lateral thinking can get the stash down fast, especially if you have a lot of small cuts of fabric. It’s likely you’ve bought a few patterns or books that you haven’t made a single project from yet – it’s time to look at them and plan to marry some of your hoarded fabrics with your favourite patterns. Win-win.

reduce temptation
If you buy fabric because it’s on sale or you see the latest ranges online, then it might be a good idea to avoid temptation. It sounds counter-productive, but it’s also a good idea to keep a stockpile of essentials like sewing machine needles, rotary cutter blades, neutral thread, interfacing and batting on hand. Every time you go to the local big box retailer to pick up more needles or a cushion insert, odds are you’ll go past the quilting fabric section, ‘just to see’ what new fabrics they have in. It’s much harder to avoid temptation when all the pretty bolts are looking down on you, begging to be bought.

make small stuff
Make a commitment to use your stash for more small projects. Whether it’s for gifts, swaps, home accessories or just cute things for yourself or your kids, small projects don’t require a lot of fabric, so you’re likely to find everything you need for a particular project in the stash. They’re also quick, which means you can make more of them, using more fabric as you go along.

embrace scrappy
Your quilts don’t have to be perfectly matchy-matchy, some of the greatest quilts contain a huge collection of prints. Scrappy quilts are the perfect way to use up your scraps and small cuts of fabrics. If you’re worried about things getting too scrappy, infuse a common feature into the whole design, such as white, low volume or a certain colour.

piece your backs
We love pieced backs, they’re almost like a whole other quilt! Buying backing is a big expense, so instead look at what’s in the stash. If you’ve got some fat quarters or half yards of fabrics that work well with your quilt top, why not create a scrappy back for your quilt? You’ll use up a lot of fabric this way and save yourself running to the store for more.

give yourself leeway
One thing to remember about sewing from your stash is that you’re not on a fabric diet. If you need extra fabric to round out a fabric pull, that’s totally okay. If you have to buy yardage of a background, go for it. It is a good idea, however, to only buy new fabric for the specific project you’re working on right now. When you fall into the trap of buying fabric ‘for the stash’ or the next five projects on the list, that’s when your plans fall apart. The key is to plan a project, shop the stash first (while being resourceful and thinking laterally), then buy any extra stuff you need to complete the project. Of course, if you have absolutely everything you need for another four projects, you do need to ask yourself if the project you’re buying for now is really your top priority (sometimes it is, but often it’s not).

use it or lose it
Let’s face it. Sometimes we outgrow fabric. Our tastes change, or we wonder why we even bought
it in the first place. There’s no shame in admitting you won’t use certain fabrics, but there’s no point
keeping them in the stash to remind you they weren’t your finest purchasing moment. A fast way to thin out your stash is to destash fabrics you know you won’t use. Need help destashing? See #9 from our 2017 New Year's resolutions for quilters post.

#sewmystash2017
You may remember the feature we did on Leasa from ProjectLeasa.com (on IG as @projectleasa) back in Issue 4 about how her innocent little new year’s resolution hashtag started a stash sewing movement. Well, the good news is she has just kicked off the 3rd year of #sewmystash and everyone's welcome! Read more and join in here. See you there!

-JK

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Our top ten 2017 New Year's resolutions for quilters

Out in the real world, some of the most commonly broken New Year’s resolutions include losing weight and saving money. In the quilting world, we have a few of our own that seem to get broken before you know it – like finishing all the UFOs and WIPs, or not buying any fabric...sound familiar?

Just like in other areas of your life, it’s the most extreme resolutions that slip away the fastest. That’s why we’ve thought long and hard to come up with some resolutions that’ll make you grow as a quilter and stretch your creative muscle, while being easier to actually keep.

1. Only buy fabric you love
This mantra isn’t as strict as a full-on fabric diet, but it does keep you in check. Rather than buying things just because they’re on sale, you’re visiting a new shop, or it’s the line everyone is talking about, instead buy fabric you LOVE. Really, really love. Treat your stash as a carefully curated collection that reflects your impeccable tastes. The upsides: your stash will fill up with absolute favourites, and you will buy less. There are no downsides.

2. Learn something new
Before you make this resolution, you need to be specific. Do you want to try English paper piecing? Screen printing? Hand appliqué? Art quilting? Think about one thing you’ve always wanted to try ‘one day’ and make this the year you’ll be doing it. Then make a plan – from gathering materials to finding how-to-guides to setting a start date. Then do it.

3. Finish some WIPs
Some people love to start and finish projects in a linear fashion. The rest of us ebb and flow, moving from one project to the next, sometimes leaving a trail of WIPs in our wake. While we are not saying you shouldn’t have any WIPs, remember that too many can be overwhelming. If your WIPs are out of control, then make a plan to finish some, without being too strict about it. Let yourself start new things in between, but make it a goal to at least reduce your UFO count. If you need some encouragement, the 2017 Finish A Long has just begun and the word on the street is that the prizes are awesome!

4. Keep a design book
Resolve to design more. Whether or not you consider yourself a quilt designer or not, you will stretch your creative muscle if you start looking around you for quilty inspiration. It’s everywhere, from clothing to nature to man-made objects. Sketch your ideas, and before you know it you’ll be coming up with original creations. Tip: A graph/grid paper book (the one with little squares) makes turning designs into quilt blocks so much easier!

5. Try a new craft
We know you love quilting, it’s our favourite too. But sometimes it’s refreshing to try another craft, such as knitting, scrapbooking or cross stitching. Doing something else will help improve your eye for design and teach you new skills that might apply to quilting. And you’ll find that sometimes you just don’t feel like quilting and it’s nice to do something else for a bit. Then you can come back to quilting all refreshed.

6. Slow down
In the world of social media sharing we are always so busy trying to create another finish, write another blog post, and meet another deadline. Productivity is good, but too much of this can suck the fun out of quilting. Instead, start a complex quilt with no end point in mind. Relish in the taking it slow. A few years ago, I started an EPP project with over 2000 diamonds in it. People frequently ask me how long it’s going to take me, and I’m happy to tell them ‘forever’.

7. Make time to sew more
There are weeks when you discover that you barely have time to touch your sewing machine, let alone make any significant progress on anything. Set a time to sew every (or at least most) days. If you change out your routine to include half an hour of sewing a day, you’ll find another 182 ½ hours available to you over a year. Imagine what you could do with that!

8. Organise your space
We’re all for the imperfect, honest craft room, but if your sewing space is such a hot mess you don’t know where anything is, you’re going to waste time looking for things you’re sure you had, and money on things you didn’t need to buy again. There are a million ways to store craft supplies and inspiration galore on Pinterest, so start looking for solutions that fit your space and budget. We recommend housing your stash all in one area, making sure your tools are always accessible, and keeping your threads and notions in a single location.

9. Destash what you don’t love
When you sort out your sewing space, you’re likely to find things you no longer love, you know you’ll never use, and some that you don’t even know how they got there. This might be fabric, supplies from another craft long forgotten, and even UFOs. You do not need to keep these things. They take up space, induce guilt and don’t have a place in your creative arena. Sell them, give them away, throw them away... it doesn’t matter how you get rid of them, as long as you do. There are groups on Facebook dedicated to helping you find new owners for fabric you've fallen out of love with (try the Aussie Patchwork Fabric Destash Group or search for one in your area) or you can list fabric you're destashing on Instagram (If you've got a lot, you may like to make a dedicated Instagram account so you don't lose followers or try to post all of your fabric on a certain date and time so you don't clog up the feed. If you're in Aus, tag your photos with #greataussiedestash and you might even gain some new followers. Perfect timing: Cole & Taffy just published her top 12 tips for Instagram destashing).

10. Sew for yourself
We all love making handmade things for others, but it’s important to be careful that sewing doesn’t become a chore as you churn through your to-do list. Remember that it’s okay to sew for yourself (I don't believe in the term #selfishsewing!). If you don’t have a quilt for your very own bed, this is the year to put yourself first and make one! Happy sewing!

- JK & LM

Friday, 25 November 2016

Thread Basics: a simple guide to choosing threads for quilting

Like any aspect of quilting, it seems that as soon as you talk about threads, everyone has an opinion on which ones to use. Then there’s weight, fibre composition, colour…. Before you know it, this simple little stitching essential is making your brain explode! Here at Make Modern, we like to keep things simple and practical. We know quilters have all sorts of budgets, particularly when starting out. Essentially, we abide by one rule when choosing thread – choose quality! There are many goodbrands available, some you may have heard of include Aurifil, Rasant, Metter, Gutermann, Superior, Signature and King Tut. These brands are widely available at general sewing stores, specialist quilt shops and online. We’re not going to debate which of these brands are the best.


Quality
We will, however, say that anything you can buy at the supermarket or in three packs for $3 should be avoided at all costs! There is such a thing as crap thread, and if you are paying prices that seem too good to be true, then these threads do not belong in your quilts. They are not pleasant to sew with (think breakages and snags) and they will not last as long. It is well worth investing in decent threads, given the amount of money spent on fabric and the hours of work that go into a quilt. Better quality threads are made using better quality cotton and longer cotton fibres, so look for phrases like ‘longer staple length’ when choosing your thread. The better quality the thread, the less lint it will produce. When comparing the cost of the different brands of threads, make sure you apply the old unit pricing rule and compare the actual amount of thread on each spool – you may be surprised.

Test Driving
It is worth trying different brands of thread to work out which ones you, and your sewing machine, like best – particularly before you invest in a lot of them. You may hear people say ‘my machine doesn’t like that thread’ – this is not necessarily an indicator of ‘bad’ thread, some machines are just quirky like that. I have had the experience where I could piece and straight line quilt with a particular brand of thread on my old machine with no dramas, but free motion quilting was too much pressure on the thread and I experienced a lot of breakages. Now I can free motion quilt with the same thread on my Juki machine and it works fine. Go figure.

Colour
It is often tricky to figure out what colour to piece a quilt in, especially when you use lots of different colour fabrics. Grey is a very good bet – choose a light grey for lighter tones, or a darker grey for more saturated colours. Grey has the ability to blend with almost any fabric beautifully and is a great neutral to have on hand at all times. Choosing a thread colour for the quilting component of the project is a different story – you need to choose a colour that complements your fabric choices, deciding whether or not you want the quilting to stand out or blend in. Some manufacturers, such as Aurifil, have teamed with fabric designers and companies to curate collections that work perfectly with particular fabric ranges – if you have a favourite designer who tends to use a constant colour palette, threads that match perfectly are a great investment. Colour cards are also useful – once you decide on a brand of thread you like, you might choose to invest in their colour card so you can match threads to projects. Colour cards are usually made from actual threads which makes them far more accurate than viewing colours on a computer screen or print out. If you don’t have a colour card, take your project with you to the store when choosing threads, it’s amazing how tricky it is to match threads by memory.

Handwork
You can use a regular thread for handwork, many hand quilters prefer to use heavier threads, such as 40 weight or 28 weight for extra strength when hand quilting. Remember to use shorter lengths of thread when hand quilting, as longer lengths tangle and strip as you work, reducing their strength. Also, be sure to invest in quality hand sewing needles. You can purchase specific hand quilting threads that are wax coated for strength, or simply run your thread through beeswax to strengthen it. It’s important not to use these coated threads in your sewing machine as the coating can damage it. For example, Gutermann produces hand quilting threads in 50 shades. You can also hand quilt using thicker perle cottons or heavier weight threads like Aurifil’s Aurifloss.

Fibre Content
Many quilters swear by the ‘like with like’ rule, which means you use cotton thread to sew cotton fabric. While this is not set in stone, it is a good one to consider, particularly if your quilt is going to be washed a lot. It is said that the stronger fibres in polyester thread can cut through cotton fabrics over time, damaging your quilt. It is simpler to mend a hole produced by broken threads than a hole produced by damaged fabric fibres. Most thread manufacturers produce cotton threads in a wide range of colours. Core spun threads, such as Rasant and Signature’s Cotton Wrapped Polyester threads, are also an option – they have a very strong continuous filament polyester core covered in cotton fibres to provide the best of both worlds. Of course, if you are exploring art quilts or really want to stretch your creative muscle when quilting, fibre content rules go out the window as you enter the world of polyester machine embroidery threads, silks threads, metallic, clear monofilament threads and the like. Fibre is very much a personal experience, and it is worth investigating the wide
variety of quality threads available in fibres other than cotton.

Weight
Not all threads are created equal, and most thread manufacturers produce threads in a range of weights for various purposes. The higher the number on the thread, the finer it is. It would be simple if there was a universal system for calculating thread weight, but there’s not! The TEX system is the standard for industrial sewing thread, which incorporates the Cotton Count System (NEc) for sizing spun threads. Unfortunately there is no standard for home sewing thread, but if you want to read a bit more on the theory of thread, YLI have a very useful document here. Most simply, a fine thread is best for general piecing and applique because it sits in the seam well. Move to a slightly thicker thread for general machine sewing. Aurifil recommends their 50 weight for piecing, 40 weight for general sewing. Superior recommends their MasterPiece thread for piecing because it is high quality Egyptian cotton in a 50 weight with very low lint. When machine quilting, you can use a wide variety of thread weights for different effects. Wonderfil offers a range of threads from 100 weight to 12 weight (with 20, 30, 35, 40, 50 and 80 weights in between!) and recommends 100 weight if you just want to texture the background without seeing the colour from the thread, or 12 weight if you really want to make the thread a feature.

Remember that there are a few things you can do to make your threads work better. Using the right type of needle for the thread and fabric is critical, as is replacing needles regularly. You may need to adjust your machine tension to accommodate different types of threads. Clean out the bobbin casing of your machine regularly to get rid of the lint bunnies. Make sure you’ve got the thread loaded correctly – it should be released anti clockwise. Most thread spools have writing on one end, make sure this is to the top. For most purposes, match your top and bobbin threads (decorative quilting may be the exception). If you don’t want to match colours, use the same brand thread in the top and bobbin. For best results, investigate thread manufacturer’s websites to establish which of their threads they recommend for different types of sewing. Regardless of which brand you choose, you are always going to get better results if you choose the right thread for the job. While it seems tedious, taking the time to trial different threads and carefully considering your thread choice will yield better results and improve your sewing experience.

- JK

Friday, 21 October 2016

Scraps Happen: a guide to dealing with your fabric scraps!

Scraps. For quilters, this word can spark the same mixed emotions as ‘basting’ does. We have a love/hate relationship with our scraps – they’re happy little reminders of quilts and blocks gone by and the last morsels of delicious yardage. But as the scrap collection grows and grows (seriously, do they breed?) we begin to get the guilts about how to deal with them.

Most of us keep our scraps. Only the bravest few pass them on to friends or (gasp!) throw them out. While you don’t have to keep your scraps, bear in mind that you paid just as much for them as the yardage on your shelves. And some of the most interesting quilts feature a myriad of fabrics – which means you need lots of little bits of lots of different fabrics, which is where your scraps come into their own. And it is fabric (need we say more?). But many of us don’t actually use our scraps, and there are plenty of us who don’t have an effective way to store our scraps. I suspect these two facts are closely linked – if you can manage your scraps effectively, you’re more likely to use them. So it’s time to crank your favourite tunes, grab your favourite beverage, and tackle your scrap stash.

Step One: what should I keep?
The first step is to cull the scrap bin. Yes, I know we’ve just talked about how scraps are worth the same as yardage, but your scrap bins shouldn’t be full of ugly or unusable fabrics. So grab a garbage
bag, and be ruthless. Dump all your scraps out and sort the keepers out from the rubbish. It is okay to throw out fabric that is a) seriously ugly, b) seriously out of date, c) poor quality, d) too small to be useful, e) stained or damaged in some way.

Some people like to use ugly fabrics, cutting them small enough to hide the ugly – but it’s up to you to decide if you want to use them or dump them. Same goes for crumbs, those tiny, funny shaped
pieces. They can be great for small-scale improv piecing, but not a lot else. If you decide to keep your crumbs it may be useful to put them all together in one place (like a large zip lock bag).

It is preferable to keep your other (non-quilting) fabric scraps somewhere else so you know anything in the scrap bins can be used for a quilt.

Step Two: how big is a scrap?
How long is a piece of string? What is a reasonable serving size of chocolate? You need to decide what constitutes a scrap for – some people say anything smaller than a fat quarter is a scrap, but my stash includes a lot of fat quarters, so I choose to sort anything smaller than a fat eighth into my scrap bins. On the other end of the spectrum, I keep anything that is bigger than about two inches square (the more precious the fabric, the smaller the scrap). You need to decide what is useable to you based on how you use fabric – if you do appliqué you might keep tiny pieces, whereas someone else might deem anything smaller than a charm square as too small.

Step Three: how do I make my scraps useable?
Now you’ve got down to the fabric you want to keep, you need to get it useable again. Iron all your scraps (they’ll take up less space and they’re ready to go) and trim all the funny shapes and loose threads off them.

Step Four: how should I sort it?
I used to store all my scraps in a huge basket. Just tossed in all together, waiting for inspiration to strike. FYI: this system didn’t work at all and I’m pretty sure that it’s not one anybody would recommend, except maybe the cat who thought it was a good place to sleep. After extensive research, I discovered that most quilters with effective scrap storage systems either store by size or by colour, so we’ll look into those systems further.

Sorting by Colour
This is my preferred option, because it reflects how I quilt. I usually work by colour and I think in colour stories. I bought a bunch of cheap plastic storage containers and labelled them with each colour. I then sorted my scraps into each colour box.

Sorting by Size
Bonnie Hunter at www.quiltville.com has written extensively about storing scraps by size and it’s well worth checking out her website to see how she does it. The premise behind sorting scraps by size is that there are a few very common measurements in many quilt blocks and if you cut your scraps to these sizes then it’s very easy to start a scrap quilt using these pieces and you’ll make a huge dent in your scraps in the process. Here are some of the more common sizes to cut: squares in 1 ½”, 2”, 2 ½”, 3 ½” and bricks in 2” x 3 ½”, 2 ½” x 4 ½”, 3 ½” x 6 ½”. You can also keep strips in the same width as squares and then save them to cut down later – strips are great for blocks like log cabins. You can cut the same shapes as pre-cuts – 5” squares, 10” squares and 2 ½” strips and then you can use any pre-cut pattern.

Strings are strips of anything more than about an inch wide. Save all your strings together. It seems time consuming, but if you take time to cut your scraps to size at the end of every project, or in small blocks of time, it will get done and you’ll be left with a whole lot of useable pieces. Next time you have a project that requires a certain size of fabric, you simply go to that box and start with a whole pile of pre-cuts.

Sorting Exceptions
You may decide you want to keep certain types of fabrics together, such as 1930s prints, low volumes, fussy cuts and novelties or Libertys. Many designers make ranges that coordinate well together, so you might want to keep all scraps from one designer together, like Heather Ross, Kate Spain or Bonnie & Camille.

Step Five: how should I store it?
There are plenty of storage options and they don’t need to be expensive. As I mentioned, I use cheap plastic boxes that fit neatly on my shelves. These work whether you sort by colour or by size. Plastic storage drawers or even the humble zip lock bag are also practical options. Jars or baskets or decorative boxes are also a great solution that double as craft room eye candy. In their book Sunday Morning Quilts, Amanda Jean Nyberg and Cheryl Arkison use scrap fabric to make supercute storage boxes for their scraps (this book is a fabulous resource for any scrap quilter) – the boxes shown here are made from this pattern.

Using your Scraps
Now you’ve got your scraps all beautifully sorted out, it’s critical you actually use them if you want to keep them under control. Even though it seems they multiply on their own, they don’t sew themselves!

Scraps are perfect for little projects like pin cushions and pouches, and they lend themselves beautifully to English paper piecing. They’re also great for bee blocks and paper piecing. Hit up your scrap bins often enough when you’re making these little projects and you’ll make a dent in your scrap stocks.

Of course, the obvious answer to keeping your scraps under control is to make scrap quilts. There are many amazing scrap quilts out there – take a look on Pinterest for endless inspiration. The trick is to think of your scraps as a mini stash, pull fabrics that you think will play nicely together and use them together.You may choose to work in one or two colours, or the whole rainbow and then some. It is effective to choose a simple block and repeat it, like a nine patch or a log cabin. You can make each block in a single colour, or make each one in many colours. Or you can improv piece sections of fabric together for a different look.

It is useful to pay attention to value when scrap quilting, separate your lights and darks and use this to create contrast. Low volumes are also a great asset in scrap quilting as they act as white space.

It is also very effective to tie your blocks together with a commonality, like solid white or grey. Remember you don’t have to make a quilt from scraps. When you’re doing a fabric pull for a new project, make sure you pull out your scrap bins too and utilise the fabrics in them. Constantly using scraps will keep them under control. Get them organised and make a conscious effort to use them and you’ll find your scraps stay under control all on their own.

-JK

Friday, 16 September 2016

Instagram for Quilters: a what, why and how guide

You’ve heard about it. Your favourite bloggers talk about it. Your quilty friends mention events happening on it. Not surprisingly, Instagram (or IG) is one of the most favoured social media platforms in the quiltosphere because it is photo-based and we’re all about sharing pictures of our work. But starting up on Instagram can be daunting, we know, which is why we’ve put together this guide to get you online and posting in no time!

Simply put, Instagram is an app that you download to your iPhone or smartphone. It allows you to take a quick photo and share it along with a brief comment. Sounds simple, right? But it’s a whole lot more than that. It’s a community! Plus it’s a bit fun. Okay, it’s a lot of fun. Please note: Make Modern takes no responsibility for any ensuing IG addictions.

Once you have the app installed, you need to set up a profile. It’s a good idea if you use a name that people might associate with you already – perhaps your blog or flickr name. That will help people to find you on IG. Fill out the description so people know what you’re about, it helps potential followers to ‘meet’ you. Don’t forget to add a profile pic! It doesn’t have to be you – it could be one of your favourite quilty projects, your blog logo or your cat. No pressure.

You can set your profile to public or private. If you’re going to be posting family photos and want to approve everyone who can see them, go for private. If want to enter challenges and competitions, and develop a presence within the online quilting community, make your feed public so you’re easier to follow.

Now you’re ready to start the fun! First, find some awesome people to follow. That way you can get started liking and commenting on pictures. If you have friends on IG, add them and then check out who they’re following to find followers you might also be interested in. Or you can use the ‘Search’ feature (click on the magnifying glass icon) to help you find particular people. The names of your favourite quilty bloggers, fabric stores and designers are a great place to start.

You might also notice throughout our magazine that we have included IG names. Right there are some great people to look up and follow! Just look at the end of each article on where to find the contributor and type that @name into your Instagram and voila! New awesome people to follow!

While you’re learning your way around Instagram, tap on that little magifying glass (explore) second from the left on your toolbar. That’s where you can search for names or hashtags. It’s also where IG puts photos it thinks you might like. Once you start following people and adding awesome quilt candy to your feed, you’ll soon find the Explore page fills with awesome quilt candy you haven’t seen yet but might like to check out. Clever, clever IG. (Okay, so you may also find some random what-the?! photos in your Explore but it’s okay, move right on back to those awesome quilt candy photos!).

 Photos posted by the people you follow can be found in your Newsfeed(the home icon). What next?! Show your fellow IGers some love. If you’re in a hurry, you can simply double tap the picture to ‘like’ it, or click the heart button. If you absolutely love something and want to let the poster know, click the speech bubble icon and leave a comment. Everyone loves comments! If you want to reply to someone else’s comment on a photo, or tag a friend in it you can type the @ symbol and the other person’s IG name so they receive a notification to let them know you’re talking to them.

Now we’ve got you sorted to check out other people’s awesomeness it’s time to set up your own! Take some photos! You can muck around with cropping, different filters or effects until you’re happy with how your photo looks. Add a caption then share it with the world! Or at least with your new IG followers. Congratulate yourself because you are well on your way to IG fun!

Want to be more involved? You can be with those magic things called hashtags. By adding a hashtag (#) in your caption, your photo gets filed under that name. Click on the hashtag and you can see all the other pictures tagged with that hashtag. For example, if you’d like to check out other projects that people have made, look up #makemodern. Quilt eye candy!

We do hope that you’ll share photos of your own MM projects using the hashtag. Checking out hashtags is also a great way to find people to follow. Keep an eye out for different hashtags to join in on – #greataussiedestash and #honestcraftroom are just two of many! Or go ahead – create your own and invite everyone to join in!

Often you’ll see competitions on IG where you’re instructed to regram the photo for a chance to win. What the?! Don’t freak out! Regramming is simply copying the photo and putting it on your own feed. You can use a reposting app like Repost, which do the hard work for you and also credit the original poster. It’s always good etiquette to give credit where it’s due. Alternatively you can take a screenshot on your phone (on an iPhone you hold down the power button and home button simultaneously, Android phones have various methods depending on your phone) then crop it and share it to your own feed. Put your post in the centre of your crop box and make sure you include the
username of the original poster. Also tag the original poster in your comment so they can pop by and see. Once you have the power to regram, remember the importance of doing it right – photos on Instagram belong to the original poster and are protected by copyright, so share with care.

There are other apps you can use outside of Instagram to enhance your whole IG experience. Instacollage lets you collage multiple images into one picture. Over lets you write on your photos. Apps like Canva and Snapseed offer photo editing right from your phone.

IG is a wonderful way to share a little glimpse of what you’re currently working on, or a shot of a finished project. Perhaps you’re doubting yourself and need a bit of instant feedback (should I go with the grey solid or the green? Help!). That’s the beauty of IG. You can get feedback rather quickly and be back to sewing in a flash.

You can also tag people who you think might be interested in seeing your photo. For example, you’ve just made a drop dead gorgeous, super-duper eye catching quilt with the newest line of fabric from your favourite designer. Why not tag the designer so they can see what you’ve created? They might surprise you and even comment on it! Don’t feel dejected if they don’t comment though – can you imagine how many notifications quilt celebrities get each day?!

To see what’s been happening on your own IG between visits, click on the Following button (the little heart icon). This tells you who has started following you – you might want to follow them back – who has liked your pictures, who has commented on your pictures and if you’ve been tagged in other pictures.

In the end, how much you get out of IG depends on how much you put in. You might simply enjoy looking at the pretty pictures but rather not post your own. You’re likely to find plenty of inspiration! Or perhaps you’ll post a photo most days and start to interact with followers, meet new people and even join in block swaps or quilt-alongs. The most important thing is to have fun! We look forward to seeing you there!

- KL

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Kristy @quietplay