Tool roll

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I took a break from quilting — which can be tiring work, manipulating three layers of fabric in the heat — to make this.

It’s a tool roll.

Over the years, I’ve watched middle schoolers, high schoolers and others struggle with pencil cases. The pencil cases fill up with broken pens, pencils without points, and a variety of other broken tools. It’s dumb.  I’ve made other tool rolls, notably in leather, but I wanted to make one that I thought could be replicated in a school MakerLab pretty easily with just fabric and some simple supplies like ribbon and bias tape.   And I made this in a couple of hours, I’d say, making it up as I went.  Pretty easy, and a reasonably competent sewer could make a replica in short order, I’m sure.

The design is pretty simple but I’m going to have to refine it further before it’s ready for prime-time to teach others how to sew.  There is a pattern of sorts, in other words. But I’m going to have to refine it.

The essence of the design is two pieces of fabric, the same width but different lengths.  One is folded around the other in such a way as to form a top ‘flap’ to protect the tools inside and keep them from flopping out; and a bottom ‘pocket’ to hold the tools in place.  These two pieces of fabric are the red-with-yellow-stars fabric, and the solid blue.  (The purple is bias tape, the ribbon is from the box of a fancy men’s store in New York City that I saved for this purpose when I got a gift; and the black-and-white floral print is left over from one of last week’s quilts.  The result is a simple tool roll that holds just a few pens and pencils — enough to know that they work, that they’re good tools, and that they have a specific place to go.  Not so many that they get lost or broken.

Even unrolled, the tool roll conceals its tool kit until the last minute.  The blue fabric flips over the top in order to protect the equipment inside.  When this is flipped open or flipped back, the simple collection of tools inside becomes visible.   I think ultimately there should be room for 2-3 pencils, one of those blocky pencil-sharpeners with two shavers, a compass and a ruler, and 3-5 pens (black, blue, red, and maybe some other colors): enough to work with in an imaginative way, but not so much that it’s hard to keep track of.  And when something is broken or missing, you know — you know because you, the kid who made this pencil case, know exactly how many tools are in it, should be in it, and where they go.  That would be the idea.

So that’s the basics of the design: non-complicated, four pieces of fabric and a ribbon  And the design teaches four basic skills, too: hemming, inside-out-and-turn construction, top stitching, bias tape use, cutting on a rotary mat with a quilting ruler, and layering of stitches. It’s not fool proof by any means, but it’s a sophisticated project for being such a small thing.  I have to refine it, of course, but this is a great start.  Yay!

Triangle quilt

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This is the second quilt I’ve made that uses triangles. The first such quilt I made, I assembled hexagon shaped “blocks” and then sewed the blocks together. With this quilt, I assembled the triangles into rows, and then sewed the rows together. Something went wrong diring the assembly process though. If you look closely you can see the challenge: partway through, I seemed to run out of triangles. So I added more triangles to the pattern. And I wound up with an extra row. The first photo shows the quilt as planned: the second photo shows the quilt top as assembled. 
So this quilt has an extra or unneeded row. Now I have to decide if I’m going to even the work out by adding another row, or leave the thing unbalanced as it currently is.

Quilt: triangles

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Had you told me at the start of this project what a terrible construction system triangles and hexagons were, I might not have believed you. I admit that. But I hadn’t expected them to be quite so much of a bear to construct as they actually were.

It seems simple enough, really. Cut triangles slightly larger than you want them to be. Clip the corners, or imagine them clipped, and imagine a 1/4″ seam allowance around each piece. As you sew them together, either in rows or in hexagon ‘blocks’, the pattern you’ve chosen begins to emerge. Alternate solid and patterned fabrics for a more elegant design with much more visual interest.  Seems simple, right?

Nobody explained what a bear those corners are in the middle. If you want a really elegant point on your star or on the fan of triangles at the center of your hexagon, that’s about 3x more work than “just sewing triangles together.”

Still, sooner or later you have to do it. It’s not possible to just keep building quilts out of squares forever. Sooner or later, you have to grit your teeth, stomp your feet, and assemble a quilt that uses triangles or hexagons.  You make your templates, slice up your fabric, and get to work sewing.
And things go wrong. You mis-marked a triangular piece. You didn’t mark a piece. You didn’t clip the corner of a triangle. You didn’t clip the correct corner at the right angle of a triangle. You removed too much of a corner. Your chalk wore off the piece of fabric. THere’s a dozen (a million) things that could go wrong. It doesn’t matter. “Build the whole prototype,” says a friend of mine in the engineering business. “That way, you know where the serious mistakes are.” There are a lot of serious mistakes in this quilt top.

Still, there are some successes.  Some of my center corners are pretty spot-on.  Some of my external centers look pretty good, too.  Some portions of this quilt look awesome.  And some percentage of those who see the finished product will never know there were any mistakes at all, once I’m done quilting it within an inch of its life.   The perfect is the enemy of the good, wrote Plato, as the words of Socrates.  And so it seems here, too — the more perfectly I try to make this quilt on the first try ever with this technique, the more likely the quilt will wind up unfinished in a drawer for months out of frustration.

And so it is that the quilt is here — pinned to its batting and backing, and ready for the quilting-sandwich: layers of stitching that will bind the upper layer to the bottom layer through the middle layer.  And then there will be bias tape to make, and edge-binding.

And then it will be done.

It’s certainly not the best quilt that I’ve ever made.  It’s certainly the best triangle-based quilt I’ve ever made, given that it’s the only triangle-based quilt I’ve made (though not the only hexagon-based quilt I’ve made — see English Paper Piecing and some of my further insight.)  But most of what it is, is a learning experience.  I’ve made this quilt, and I now know enough of the process that a range of similar patterns and workings are now open to me.  I can do this again and again, as needed and as desired.

Just don’t ask me to make a triangle-based quilt for free. Ever.

Quilts: cut and sew

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I want to learn the core angles of quilt sewing. Since most quilts are simply tiling patterns writ in fabric, a large percentage of this work is done in squares or rectangles on the one hand; or triangles, diamonds, and hexagons on the other.  These shapes and their variants are pretty much the only ones that tile easily. 

I started by making some six-pointed stars using a flat triangle pattern. When three flat triangles are grouped, one gets an equilateral triangle. when one groups six equilateral triangles, a hexagon results. Half-hexagons can be used to form an edge to a field of hexagons, turning a hexagonal tile patttern into a rectangular ore square field. Many hexagons and half-hexagons together form a quilt… Who knew?? 

Much of the early work consists of lining up sheets of fabric and then putting a template on them to slice out triangles.  I felt like I cut out hundreds if not thousands of triangular fabric tiles yesterday. You can see the piles of them in the first photograph here, a lot of grays and blacks and very dark blues, with some Celtic knot work fabric, too. 
Once that fabric gets sorted by color and type, it begins to feel like not enough, though.  

Nonetheless, one has to keep going. Breaking up big pieces of fabric into smaller ones just results in a mess. Fabric has a warp and weft that holds it together.  Once you start cutting into it, you break up its internal integrity and it will start to unravel.  You’ve dissolved the bonds that hold it together.  Now you need to begin to recombine it.  

The key things to consider about that recombination are color, texture and weave.  People like complementary colors rather than clashing colors.  They like patterns, but they don’t want too many patterns next to one another.  There need to be places where they can rest their eyes on relatively neutral hues, so that a patterned fabric can then grab their attention. That’s a lot to hold together in mental clarity. 

And so we begin with somethiing relatively neutral, and matching the stars in certain particulars.  
Hexagons have a particular logic to them when you start with triangles, as I have. Quite naturally the three stars are going to draw the eye first and foremost.  So the quilt has to be built out around them. I have enough fabric to make twelve or thirteen more of these two-grays hexagons, but not enough to make a whole quilt this way. So my next step is going to be to construct another pleasing hexagon design, and interleaved the two-tone gray hexagons with that new design, while trying not to distract from the stars.  My partner also recommended making more stars but in radically different colors. That could work too. 

Yesterday at the fabric store, I met a woman who was making fabric furnishings for a Russian Orthodox congregation: linens for the altar and stoles and robes for the clergy.  She was working on the stiff linen and brocade chalice cover, and had come in to find some more gold braid for the cover. It was beautiful. I have a long way to go yet, but it was a reminder that all kinds of people need all kinds of custom sewing work. Increasingly I’m prepared to handle it. 

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.

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