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)