Quilts: new forms

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I’m working with a book on quilting called Hexagons, Diamonds, Triangles and More, by Kelly Ashton. It’s about using templates and jelly roll strips (and other strips of cloth in different sizes) to produce quilts and quilt blocks on the 60-degree angle — mostly triangles and hexagons, but also some other patterns. Some of the resulting piecework should really be assembled by hand rather than machine. The bits of cloth are too small to be easily machined together; hand stitching may be required. 

Um. No.
There are limits to what I am willing to do for a commercial quilt. This may be one of those things. In essence, though, the process is the same as it is for English paper piecing: cut out a group of pieces of fabric using a template. Do this by cutting up a plastic milk carton into a number of durable template parts, and then using a ruler and rotary cutter to slice through dozens of pieces of fabric at once. Then you will have enough pieces to work with, to build up larger structures. I chose to start by working with the flat triangle shape. This gets cut out of a strip of cloth about 1.75″ wide; I chose to use two gray fabrics and a black fabric. For this next quilt I want to have the geometry provide the visual interest, and let the color palette take a back seat to the design. That’s the intention, in any case. As you can see, I made up a number of templates all at once. This quilt is going to be triangle-heavy, but with a range of triangular shapes and structures that also rely on hexagons (because a hexagon is six triangles). These three shapes are symmetrical, which means they can be stacked in useful ways. I can either assemble them into strips as shown in the first photograph. Or I can assemble them into pyramids. Emergent properties of course become obvious once you lay out a number of pieces for sewing. Triangles oriented in a particular way become six-pointed stars. It’s worth noting that the template must have a seam allowance. Here I’ve got a 1/4″ seam allowance on the template piece, and so the layout has this weird hole in the middle when the pieces are aligned but not yet sewn together. 
But that hole disappears eventually. I am not yet skilled at sewingvthe central gap together. but a straight-line technique does not appear to work correctly. The work needs a little more finesse than that.

What’s really elegant here is that the templates in the book are intended to work together. So the finished triangles now woven/sewn into this hexagon are the same size as the triangle templates. Which means that if I finish the pieces I’ve cut into three full stars, I can then put those stars almost like appliqué structure into a quilt that is otherwise constructed of triangles. 

F. Buckminster Fuller devised a three-point grid rather than the Cartesian grid of squares that we use in modern mathematics.  It’s funny to discover that Midwesterner’s grid system underlying the designs of four-hundred-year-old quilt patterns. One wonders what he was sleeping under, growing up, and what dreams those blankets may have inspired. 

Quilt tops

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I finished assembling these three quilt tops today. They came out quite nicely. All three were assembled using jelly rolls strips, which usually come in packs of twenty. Like the earlier quilt, these were made by sewing together three strips, and then cutting those strips into squares of about 6.5″. These were then sewn into rows, and then columns sewn together.  

I made use of four jelly rolls: one of white fabric, one of black fabric, one of blue fabric, and one multicolored roll where all the fabrics had golden dots on them. I wish in retrospect that I had distributed the gold-dot fabrics more broadly among the three quilts. Next time I should buy 5+ jelly rolls, make them all into squares, and then assemble the resulting squares into a wider variety of quilts. 

 I still have to choose fabrics for the undergirding, although I already have the batting. I also need to get another jelly roll for the edge binding. 

My goal with these three quilts was to learn to work with jelly roll strips (usually 2.5″ wide and 42″ long) before learning to work with 60-degree parts, which is to say triangles and hexagons. Triangle and hexagon quilts are beautiful but they require an extra special level of work because of all the Y-shaped seams that make them up. 

Jelly Roll Quilts

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I made a quilt a couple of weeks ago from a jelly roll — not a fabulous pastry, but a roll of 20 or so strips of fabric sold in a bundle. Today, I processed the other three rolls that I bought at the same time into squares to make three more quilts. By mixing and matching the individual pieces, I got three more quilt tops for three more baby quilts. IMG_5491.JPG

Two of the quilts are made of squares that are black, blue and white in various combinations — florals, polka dots, triangles, and other dot patterns.i6qwQ.jpeg So the result is that two of these quilt-tops are going to be very similar to one another. They’ll both wind up looking like variations of the pattern in the first photograph.

The third quilt is much more different.  It consists of colored strips with gold dots on them. Those golden dots don’t come through on the photograph, but they’re there nonetheless.  The use of color in this quilt makes it a significant departure from the regularization of pattern that emerges on the earlier quilt.

There, the patterning of the fabric faded out in favor of the black-and-white pattern of H’s or I’s that is visible to everyone who sees the quilt.  Here what emerges is the color-blocks of purple and pink and red; the fabric patterns are less obvious, less important.

All three quilts are dependent on three important tools working together — the self-healing green mat from Olfa; the rotary cutter; and the quilter’s ruler.  The three tools work together to create the blocks of stripes that are visible in all three quilts.

IMG_5490I’m going to need at least one more jelly roll of strips to be able to finish these three quilts, of course: that jelly roll will go into making the borders around the edge of each quilt, and the edge binding that holds the batting, the underlayer, and the top together.  That process of assembly is getting easier for me, but it’s still not intuitive.  In another jelly roll, I’ll likely use all 20 pieces.

Commonplace book

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I’ve been experimenting with commonplacing. In the 1600s through the early 1900s, the commonplace book was a system of gathering texts and quotations in one place, usually a blank notebook, for the purpose of recollecting information and remembering key ideas about virtue, truth, health, leadership or what have you.

Doctors used them for recording “pearls”, key ideas about a pair or triad of symptoms and a specific diagnosis. Politicians used them to note useful quotations for speeches, and historians used them to categorize events and trends in the age before statistical analysis made more nuanced discussions possible.

I’m using a Moleskine/Evernote-branded softcover notebook to record poetry that I’m trying to memorize; pieces go into the book in the order that I’ve memorized them or intend to commit them to memory.  I attended a Burns Night supper in January last year; and I made an effort to memorize Robert Burns’ Epigram on Bad Roads, which is the first poem in the book, as you can see.

“I’ve now arrived —
thank all the gods!
Through pathways both rough and muddy;
a certain sign that makin’ roads
is no’ this people’s study.
Though I’m not with Scripture crammed
I know the Bible says
that heedless sinners shall be damn’d —
unless they mend their ways.”

It was nice and useful to memorize a funny poem for a change, instead of a serious one.  Most of my poetry tends to be pretty serious; and I tend to memorize serious poetry.  It’s a useful reminder that I should from time to time work on funny poetry as a form — both to memorize, and to write.  Something to practice!img_5468

Further on in the book, in the last three pages or so, is an index page listing the poetry and other elements I’ve put in the book.  Here’s part of that index, listing on page 1 the Epigram on Bad Roads, and Langston Hughes, and John Keats, and so on.   William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence takes up pages 7-11. You can see that I’m working on memorizing quite a lot of Thomas Taylor’s translations of the Orphic Hymns, as well, and the Aleister Crowley hymn for Coffee (not Covfefe).  The index continues; I’ve listed all of the pages, even if I haven’t filled them yet.  It’s rather more similar to the Digital Ambler’s Vademecum, really, or an Enchiridion, than a true commonplace book. A true commonplace book should not only have a table of contents at the beginning, but also an index by subject, such as hope or valor or kindness or coffee. Such an index would help one find appropriate material within the book more rapidly and easily.

img_5469Not everything in the book is poetic. Two pages include a list of all of the U.S. Presidents in order, which I’m working on memorizing, not just with their names but also their years.  It’s occurred to me frequently that this list serves a useful purpose as a time-counter; it’s much easier to remember when something occurred in time if you remember who was president at the same time.  That’s part of the reason why I also have the similar list of the Kings and Queens of England a few pages on from this — The English royal list extends back in time to 1066, and it creates a useful parallel list for European affairs.  Maybe I should also work on the list of the Emperors of Japan…

 

Shaker Village

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Just inside the western border of Massachusetts is the Hancock Shaker Village, a museum dedicated to the history and artistry and agriculture of the Shakers. I’m going to be staying for a few days in the neighborhood, here at the edges of the “Burned-Over District” as described by the  author Mitch Horowitz in Occult America. 

I’ve been to the museum several time. It never ceases to astound me. High technology in the form of this remarkable barn, artisanry shops, and passive solar living. It’s not a permaculture community. But it’s close to that in so many ways. The shakers were the first great caretakers of American orphans; among the first to establish brand names — shakers were associated with high quality handmade goods — the first to imagine communal living in a more-or-less Protestant and  European context in North America. The things they made are beautiful. 

Shirt-making notes 2

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This is a continuation of my effort to document some of the errors and challenges I faced while making a particular pattern. The first part of it is here.

I recalled that I had tried making this shirt before.  But I was wrong; it’s a different pattern in that first effort. This is the first time I’ve tried making this shirt; I’m not sure that I like it any better than that one, I admit.  But that’s not why I tried making a shirt.

Buttons and trim

One of the challenges of any shirt pattern is that the key details — buttons and buttonholes, trim on the collar — all come at the end. Any mistake is glaring and obvious. You can ruin the work of two days (or a few hours, for a real professional) just by getting a buttonhole wrong. Fortunately for me, I’ve already made three significant mistakes. I don’t care if I get some details wrong at this point — I want to know the other mistakes I’m likely to make.

I finish the body of the shirt: front, back, two sleeves, placket, two cuffs (three pieces each). Now it’s all detail work.

The first photo shows the trim around the neckline and the two buttons on the cuffs. Last step: two buttonholes.

A buttonhole on a shirt is a date with death. You can’t do it until the very end; it’s a one-time activity; once it’s cut, there’s no going back.

Shirt body complete

I get the first buttonhole done.  It looks like it’s the right size. It measures correctly. Is it, though? There’s something I’ve forgotten but I can’t remember. Something about the height of the button being relevant. I don’t look it up. Button holes already frighten me. I have to face this fear. The garment is already somewhat damaged. One more mistake isn’t going to kill it.

Cut a button hole with a seam ripper. They’re more precise than a blaster, a weapon for a more elegant age. It takes several cuts with the tiny blade in the bottom of the seam ripper to open the hole.

Wrong

It takes a couple of seconds of fiddling to get the button to fit. This is not ideal; it shoild be a smooth thing, not fussy. I will heed advice, but mostly I need more practice.

Some of it is having the right tool to mark the fabric.  I only have white chalk to mark my lines on fabric; against the pale blue background, the white tailor’s chalk is largely invisible in the light of my studio.  I can’t really see what I’m doing.  I’m also, probably, rushing.

Button in hole

The first button fits the hole quite well although accidentally… It’s a little tight and I should lengthen the next button hole.  The process of putting in the button hole stretches the cuff a little.  I hear a tearing sound.  Is that fabric, or interfacing between the two layers of fabric inside the cuff.  No obvious tears, so probably interfacing.  Is the integrity of the shirt damaged? No more than it was before, I suspect. And the shirt’s integrity is already damaged in a couple of places; the gathers around the sleeves and cuffs for one; the placement of the interior placket for another.

What next? A second button hole, of course. I’m going to try to get this one exactly right. I get it wrong of course. Instead of a nice narrow rectangle it’s more of a triangular shape. I meant to do that. Right? Right. But the button fits. Not well, maybe, but it fits.The next challenge is hemming the bottom edge. I discover that I have a hemming foot in a case of feet for my low-shank sewing machine, and I try it out. It works — not perfectly, and some of it will require practice. But it works.

In the end, I have a serviceable shirt.  It’s roomy inside this shirt, and it’s long.  Three inches extra would probably have been enough, but now I can belt it like a Anglo-Saxon nobleman, although it’s unlikely that an Anglo-Saxon nobleman would have had a shirt of pima cotton with a 400-thread count, or trim as lovely as this.

Photo on 6-11-17 at 3.32 PM.jpg

man and shirt — with a bit of gathered cuff poking out

So, a summary of mistakes:

  1. The gathering at shoulders and across the front has to be right.
  2. Reinforce the yoke shoulder seam; reinforce the place where the gathers attach to the yoke.
  3. Pin the cuffs, sew the outside, then sew the inside.
  4. Trim and finishing after.
  5. Maybe do buttons and buttonholes before attaching cuffs? Tricky.
  6. Get the point of the trim correct.

All in all, a successful first effort at this pattern.  I look forward to trying it again, the next time I find myself in possession of a top sheet that can be sliced and shredded in six different ways to make a shirt.

 

Video: Circle Center

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Once you finish a book on geometry, everyone wants help. 🙂

I wound up making this short video on how to find the center of a circle for my dad.  It’s not ideal; I need a better set-up for making videos at my desk.  But the essence of it are these steps:

  1. On a given circle, find three points about 1/3 of the way around the circle, A, B, and C.
  2. Arc the distance AB center A, and BA center B, so the arcs overlap one another at two points, D and E.  Draw a line between D and E — the center will be on that line.
  3. Arc the distance AC center A, and CA center C, so the arcs overlap one another at points F and G.  Draw the line between D and E — the center has to be on that line.
  4. Point O is the place where lines DE and FG cross. That’s the center of the circle.

I hope this helps!

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