Bookbinding 

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There’s something beautiful about a stack of books bound with Coptic stitch. Particularly when you know that the contents of each book are your own. These are copies of my Book of Splendor, a collection of poetry exploring the relationships between nature and the divine in a particular corner of New England.

These are part of a limited edition of 100 copies: numbered, and hand bound, and the hand signed by the author, that is me. I interested in buying one? Let me know.

Daring to make hats 

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I’ve never made a hat before by knitting. It’s supposedly easy, at least according to those who’ve been knitting hats for years. For those of us who’ve never knit in the round before it seems daunting. 

Don’t twist the knit!

 

I don’t quite know how this will turn out. I’m not following a pattern, merely putting one knit-stitch in front of the other until the round of a hat appears. I know that there’s fancy ribbing I could do, all sorts of patterns. I know that hats work better in multiples of eight, for some reason. I know that my own head needs about 24″ around. I have no idea if this hat will meet any of those conditions. 

The first condition is to not twist the knit as you work it in the round. The yarn has a tendency to work itself into a spiral as you knit. That’s fine if you’re making a scarf — it’s just straight line after straight line with nary a pun or a punch line in sight. But knitting in the round and not paying attention leads to a twist. And a twist leads to Möbius strips and Klein bottle covers, in knitting. 

I’ve already completely undone this hat once. I don’t plan on doing so again. Sometimes it’s better to finish a bad hat, and learn from the mistakes, than to start again and again, never going beyond the beginning. 

Bookbinding projects

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The sewing machine is busted. I am waiting for a part to come in. Singer sewing machines in the early 1960s began to transition from metal parts to hybrids that were partly metal and partly plastic. One of these plastic parts has become so worn from rubbing against metal constantly, that it has become un-usable.

Accordingly I have shifted over to bookbinding for the moment while waiting for the part to come in. Two of these books got bound this weekend — an orange copy of The Book of Splendor, intended for a friend. And a gray copy of The Mansions of the Moon. And finally, this morning, a black copy of The Behenian Stars

I’m least happy with the Behenian Stars binding. The other two books are substantial enough for a Coptic stitch binding. But The Behenian Stars is not. It’s only two quires or signatures, and it doesn’t really hang together properly. The Mansions of the Moon, likewise, is a little flimsy but it may improve with weighting and pressing it a bit. We’ll see.

I have eight more copies of the Book of Splendor to bind. This one isn’t ready for purchase yet, though it will be expensive: hand-made covers, hand-bound by the author? The Behenian Stars is available on both Etsy and Amazon as a digital PDF, but to sell a physical copy of it, I think I’ll need to thicken the book up a bit. Maybe if I combine it with the Mansions book, both together will be dense enough to bind easily.

Quilt advice

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Weird thing happened to me today at the fabric store. I’d gone in for a piece of interfacing for a project. But on my way there I got a coupon for my total order, and fat quarters (18″x21″) were already 50% off. So I was likely to get a good deal on FQuarters… I went looking. 

While I was browsing the fat quarters in the far quarters of the store, a woman turned to me. “How’s your color theory? Are you good at putting patterns together?” She had a fat quarter like a yellow argyle pattern, next to a few panels of an orange floral pattern. It was very…. busy. 

In the course of the subsequent conversation about color, I pulled out my phone and made this 9×9 grid of one possible sub-square of her possible quilt. I showed her pictures of my quilts. This was going to be her first effort ever at a quilt. I’m not that far ahead of her. What business have I got advising her? 

Nonetheless, I advised her. I said, “your patterns are nice. I like them both. But what I would do is mix in some of these other solid colors. If you think of each square of your quilt as a 3×3 grid, then make a few panels patterned, like this orange floral, and a few panels solid colors, like this pastel orange and pastel yellow. Use a contrasting pale blue, something soothing, to put against all these vibrant colors.”

“And,” I said, “make a baby quilt. They’re 36 by 54.”

“But I’m making a lap quilt for myself, for when I watch tv or something.”

“A baby quilt is about the right size for a lap quilt. But if you don’t like this quilt when it’s done, you can give it away as a baby shower present, and no one can refuse it because its handmade.”

“I like the way you think,” she said, and waltzed off to pay for her day quarters. She wound up taking most everything I advised her to take…

… including the fat quarters that I’d intended to buy. Oh well. 

Crib Quilts

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Normally the Monday article is a book review. I’m a little behind in my reading due to other projects this weekend. So that will appear later this week. Instead…

Quilts

Quilts are relatively easy. All you do is beat your head against the sewing machine while flogging your back with a quilting ruler. 

Maybe it’s not that difficult.  It does seem to involve a lot of cutting of fabric into squares or strips; sewing those together; the resulting squares into different pieces; and then sewing those together. 

I tend to go more simple on baby quilts. After all, babies do grow up sooner or later. And then the quilt will be retired to an attic or given away — becoming an appropriate link in a chain as children become adults and bring children of their own into the world. 

So far I’ve produced four baby quilts. I gave the two described here to the happy parents this weekend. They gray roses is for a small baby born a few months ago. The blue and red quilt is intended for a baby who will be born in a few weeks. 

The essence of a simple quilt is this: make squares of fabric. The fabric squares should be all the same size or pretty close. The challenge with one of these quilts, the gray one, was that the quilt squares were neither squares, nor the same size. Getting stuff to line up was challenging. The blue and red quilt is more regular, with squares of 10″, all of them pretty exact. 

These two quilts are what are known as “crib size” meaning about 36″x54″.  They’re not actually that size though. I wish they were. When you consider the common denominator between those two numbers, though, it means that we’re looking at squares smaller than 10″… probably about 9 1/2″, to account for a quarter inch seam area around each square. 
The most difficult part of making a quilt, for me, is sewing the backing and batting and front of the quilt together. Making squares, particularly these single panel squares with no decoration, are easy. Sewing rows together is easy. Sewing columns together is easy. It’s the challenge of sewing through three layers — the decorative front, the batting or felt layer, and the backing fabric — that wrecks my sewing machine and tangles my thread. 
The specific challenge with these quilts, and the assembly of the layers, was a question of thread. every time I got more than a few inches into the quilting of thr three layers together, the thread would snap. Then I’d discover that the back side jad become a whorl of loops and tangles — what experienced sewers call birdsnesting.   When the sewing machine creates birds’nests, the cause is either the tension disks, or the tension on the needle thread, or the tension on the bobbin thread, or the motor…. But! I learned this week that sometimes it’s cheap thread!

Cheap thread. Who knew? When you use badly-made thread, wound on a substandard spool or bobbin, the thread often snags or breaks. It doesn’t come off the bobbin smoothly. The result is birds’ nests on the underside of your sewing!

So now I know that. And now I have to remember that… because the risk is always to save money on materials and not to go to too much expense on a project. But going down to the cheapest available materials usually results in complications later in the project — usually at exactly the point that the finished project is nearing the point of looking professional or amateur. 

I think, at this point, I’ve made as many simple-square quilts as I want to make. I think my next challenges are hexagons and triangles.

Sewing: buttonholes

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Buttonholes. Does anything drive a tailor or seamstress (seamster?) as crazy as a buttonhole? Especially if you dont have the special foot attachement for your sewing machine? I don’t think so.

My first button ‘hole’…. HA!

Only a zipper comes close to the level of annoyance that a buttonhole possesses. A button hole is literally a hole in the fabric.  If a button hole hasn’t been made properly, the fabric will unravel and shred quite easily. Before long, the bag will come completely undone. Bye-bye bag.

And yet, the other challenge of button holes is that they are the last part of the project that must be done.  They’re the most challenging work, and the most visible, and the most susceptible to inaccuracy, and the most likely errors to be noticed, and the most likely errors to result in the critical failure of the whole finished object.

That is to say, adding a button hole to an amateur project is most likely to make the project either…

  •  A) amateur, or
  • B) ruined.

My fourth and fifth …

So of course it was time for me to tackle the challenge of a button hole. Fortunately, I had a ready-made project that needed button holes: the Komebukuro or Japanese rice bag made of eight squares of fabric.

A Komebukuro has eight button holes. Technically, they’re not button holes. There are two holes in each of the side walls of a Komebukuro, and a cord is woven in and out of them to pull the bag shut.  So, the beginner looks upon these eight holes as eight perfect opportunities to ruin the whole bag, and puts in an internal drawstring, instead.

Or… one can look at it as eight opportunities to master another aspect of one’s craft.

My seventh and eighth button holes

My first button hole was terrible. First of all it was not a frame of sewn edges.  It was a garbled mass of threads that didn’t look anything like a hole at all. The Ted and fourth (not pictured) were garbled and not really square or even obviously rectangular.   My fourth and fifth were heavy handed: a lot of thread and bunched fabric.  Not very pretty at all. But they were recognizably better.   The seventh was square.  By the eighth buttonhole, I was… still not a master. But the hole was recognizably a button hole.  Maybe a bit large, but still a buttonhole.

The finished Komebukuro is not as elegant as I’d like.  I think I should have used a cord, as is traditional, rather than a ribbon. And it’s a little small for a lunch box or lunch bag.  But expanding the size of the squares from 7″ to 10″ should take care of that problem.  Don’t you think?

In a program to teach sewing, the Komebukuro should occupy pride of place.  It teaches button-holes, straight sewing, pinning, measuring, measured cutting, the basics of the idea of quilting based in mathematics, and both straight stitches and top stitches.  With colored or patterned fabrics, it can also be used to teach pattern matching and right-sides-together protocols.  In other words, it’s a nice complement to some of the other beginner’s sewing projects I’ve proposed here.  But it’s also clearly the work of a master, as well.

Someone who’s mastered button holes, for example.  Which I promptly used to help make the Viking dice bags.

Dice Bags: Vikings!

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What does one do if one has cute fabric suggestive of viking warriors on a rampage, but not very much of such fabric?

Make Dice Bags?

I mean, I suppose they could be bags for a set of runes.  There are 26 runes, or something like that, that are used in the mostly-modern divination sets that people use for a heathen-themed form of fortune-telling or divination.

I had enough fabric for three.  And maybe a half. I’m going to have to be clever with some other fabric to make the other half useful — Maybe I can find some “castle wall” fabric so that the warriors look like they’re standing behind a wall, defending the tower that they’re on top of.  Otherwise, I have a strip of fabric that’s too thin to do anything with.

It wound up being a production day, for the most part.  I produced enough fabric squares in 10″, 8″, 7″, and 4 1/2″ sizes to make three quilts.  I made one of those quilts, beginning to end. Then I found this fabric, and made these three RPG dice-bags, plus the bodies of three other komebukuro.   In list form, that’s:

  • Three dice bags
  • Three komebukuro
  • The squares for three quilts; and
  • finishing one of those quilts

I think I’ll be able to finish at least one other quilt before the weekend; the third will have to wait until next week.  I’ll be showing off both in a post early next week, I think, but a lot depends on the weather and on other aspects of my life coming together.

A fair bit of measuring went into the original design of this bag, but after that it was mostly just straight sewing on the sewing machine. There was a lot of pinning, and a few buttonholes… Buttonholes, man.  I did my first one yesterday — there will be a post about that tomorrow or the next day — and now I’ve done close to twenty.  I still can’t do them very well, but I’m getting better at them.

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