English paper piecing 

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Trust that, given enough time on the internet, that I will discover a craft I haven’t mastered yet, but that will intrigue me enough with its complexity and weirdness that i will have to try it. The last few days, that craft is English Paper Piecing (EPP). This technique is found in quilting, where it is used to make appliques and decorative elements for quilts and clothes, particularly jackets.

Puzzling it out

The essence of the technique is pretty simple. Take “squares” of paper, or hexagons, or triangles or diamonds. Use pins or basting stitches to wrap small scraps of fabric around the paper; it’s a good idea to use both methods. Whip-stitch multiple scraps together without including the paper scraps. A pattern or a design emerges from the connected scraps of fabric. Remove the papers and the basting stitches; repeat until the quilt reaches its desired size. More

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. 

Little Viking Bags, finished 

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I used a lucet today to make three cords for these three Viking bags — appropriate for dice or for runes, or small stones. Lined but unpadded inside. One of the bags is spoken for, but the other two are up for grabs.

The Viking Bag is not a komebukuro.  This is a piece of fabric — the row of marching vikings, with the wave-band and the red and white stripes — sewn in a round around a base fabric, and then given a lining of brown cloth stitched with a drawstring tube.  The new cord, in a persimmon-dyed merino wool is pulled through the tube and finished with a wooden bead (or unfinished, in the other one).

One will go up for sale on my Etsy site next week. Probably the other one as well. Do I hear any bids?

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.

Komebukuro variant

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The Komebukuro form lends itself well to a lot of variation. The squares can be made into rectangles, as here, to create a longer or rather taller bag. As shown here, the Japanese rice bag is simply two sets of vie squares — a base and four sides. The bag sides are sewn to the base, four straight stitches. Then you sew the four sides to each other, one edge at a time. the result is sort of a box or five-sixths of a cube; you could add a zipper and a lid fairly easily to this design, really.

In the photographs here, I’ve shown as best I can what I’m talking about. The gray fabric in the middle is the BASE of the bag, while the floral print in gray are the sides of the bag. I’ve laid out the fabric of the liner in all floral print, while the outside of the bag has a single white panel where I can write my name, or the name of the person the bag is for.  Embroidery could be done here, for someone who was particularly ambitious.

Seven inches appears to be a good size for the Komebukuro. You can get a lot larger than that, of course.  You can also get a lot smaller, but there’s a point of diminishing returns under about five inches on a side for the squares that make up the base and sides of the bag.  I also don’t tank I’d want to go much larger than a foot on a side.  More than that would be unwieldy, and you’d be better off with two or more bags.

Back to construction…


Once the two boxes of the inner and outer bag are made, they are nested, and the top edges are folded down and in between the two bags. We then top-stitch the seam between them. As ive discussed elsewhere, the last step as the sewing of the eight buttonholes.

There’s a picture, here, of the outer shell of the bag already assembled, but still inside-out. This is to show inside-out construction. When building a bag, the fabrics are sewn right sides together. This puts the seam on what will eventually be the inside or in-between space of the bag, between the liner and the shell.

Then you sew in the button holes.  Each side of the bag is now two panels of fabric, the shell and the liner. Each of those panels takes two buttonholes, which are maybe 3/4″ down from the top edge of the bag, and evenly spaced on the bag’s walls, about a try of the way in from the corner.  The corners of the bag’s open top should be fairly visible.  Threading a cord or a ribbon through the buttonholes creates the closure mechanism, but also creates a carrying strap.

My sense of this is that it’s fairly easy to vary the size of the squares into rectangles. But the square that forms the bottom or base is fairly rigid. You can’t alter that from a square too much without unbalancing the bag as a whole, I think.

This would look stunning in indigo-dyed fabrics, or with Japanese embroidery patterns done on the outside of the bag (doing them on the liner would create all sorts of things for your keys or other objects inside to get hung up on; stick to the outside).  Many of those patterns are based in triangular geometry, so there is some real potential for elaborate, hands-on mathematics here.

My mother has made several of these bags, without the button holes or cording, to use as trash cans for her art studio. Paper and beads and parts that can be recycled go in one of the bags; while trash goes in another. They’re prettier than regular trash cans, and collapsible. She can fold them up and put them away when they’re not in use.

I may have to make some of my own for that.

All in all, I think I’m going to make a lot of these, both with with and without cording, in a number of sizes.  They’re a good size for kids’ lunch bags, for example, or for an art kit for the car, or for portable storage of related items while camping. I think I’m going to try making some in 10″ and maybe 14″ sizes, but I think that a shoulder bag or something like that will work better as another project for teaching sewing for school books.

 

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