Here’s a quick summary of things I learned in the process.
Staggered rows means uneven rows. If your pattern calls for staggered rows, then the rows starting with full blocks will be a quarter-inch longer on the top than the ones with half blocks. Knowing this from the start can reduce bowing and shifting later on.
¼” wide rows are obnoxious. If you’re inexperienced or looking for hassle free, pick a pattern that doesn’t have eight ¼” rows. I.e., not this one.
Be careful second-guessing yourself. I spent hours drawing the layout up on the computer. I calculated exactly how I should cut my mid-block insertions for purple pieces. Then, I decided to change one of them in the quilt. After doing so, I realized I should have left it as originally planned. Of course, your experience may be the opposite.
Poly micro-suede is not nearly as easy to sew as cotton. It’s a lot tougher, so make sure you have a sharp needle. I didn’t quilt in the purple areas because it’s just that much more difficult to sew through than the cotton.
Trim stray threads as you go. Otherwise, you’ll spend a lot of time pulling them through seams and snipping them out of hard to get areas.
Be aware of row alignment as you work across the quilt. My top was pretty out of square at the end. I maneuvered it back into some semblance of shape by steam ironing bits to stretch them as needed. However, it could have been avoided if I had paid attention to how the rows were aligning. With a staggered pattern like this, make sure that every other row is aligning properly with each other. Meaning, row 1, 3, 5, 7… should all have seams along a straight line. Mine did not line up across the quilt, which caused some of the out-of-squareness.
Number of seams ripped because I sewed the wrong pieces together: 6
Number of rows cut twice, because I thought I lost one: 1
Number of purple pieces cut .5″ too short: 40
Leftover fabric: I haven’t totaled it up, but I have at least a ¼” yard of most of the fabrics, and more of others. Granted, I purchased extra of many because I like them so much.
About the quilting itself
I’m kind of un-adventurous when it comes to quilting so far. I decided to stick to simple stuff: echoing the purple curve. I used invisible thread on the top, and a teal (called peacock, I believe) poly on the bottom.
My machine does not like Gütermann invisible thread. Something about the way it comes off the spool causes it to tangle around the horizontal spindle and eventually screws up tension. Halfway through, I managed to get it to work on the vertical spindle, but I didn’t want to tear out the first half, so it is less than stellar overall.
After I figured out how to get mine to work, I came across this Quilter’s Review invisible thread comparisons article and comparison table. I wish I’d seen it before. I don’t even remember why I purchased the Gütermann thread to begin with (it’s been sitting in my thread box for a while). I’m usually a fan of the brand, but I think I’ll try something different next time—especially since the author of that article claims it’s the thickest of the six (I really hate the stiff texture!).
I used a 50% Bamboo Rayon / 50% Organic Cotton blend batting, that is pretty similar in consistency to Warm and Natural cotton batting. Really, my choice of batting in this case came down to the fact that they sell a 60″ x 60″ packaged version, which was absolutely perfect for this quilt. Since I used a poly fill that I’d purchased for some previous crafting/couch reupholstering in the baby quilt, I wanted to work with something low-loft like Warm and Natural, and the bamboo/cotton blend seemed decent.
It was very easy to work with, but I suggest pulling it out of the package and laying it out flat for a couple days or ironing it or something, because it holds the packaging folds. My teacher suggested possibly throwing it in the dryer on low or air with a very slightly damp towel just to release the wrinkles, but just laying it out flat overnight had helped enough that it wasn’t too much of an issue.
As I expected, doing a 55″ square quilt on my machine was a little unweildy, but aside from the frustrations with the nylon thread and a few mistakes I made in how I’d planned to quilt it, it turned out okay, I think.
Here are some photos of the front and back.
I’m looking forward to my next class: we’re doing appliqué and free motion quilting, so expect something a little more exciting in the future!
Now that the front of the bargello quilt is complete with borders, it is time to think about the back. Quilt backs can be simple—small ones can even be just a width of fabric—or complex. The most common form of backing is simply taking yardage and using it as-is (if wide enough) or sewing widths together until it is wide enough. I wanted to do something more exciting than that.
Who says piecing is only for the front of quilts?
Well, if someone did, I’ll have to politely disagree with them. You can do fun things with the back too, if you’re so inclined. It’s a great chance to use up extra blocks from the front, or fabric leftovers. Of course, it’s a creative process so I can’t really do a tutorial on how you should piece a back, but here’s what I did.
After finishing the front of my quilt, I still had some of one color run left; by the time I got to the central strips, the two color runs had converged into the same exact order, so I chose to exhaust one completely by cutting the remaining strips from it, leaving a good 8″ left on the second.
I also had a whole pile of little 3.5″ wide slices that I’d removed from all the rows for purple-block insertion, and a spare 1 1/2″ strip that I cut because I thought I’d lost the first one I cut (I’d actually sewn it to another strip in the wrong section).
I decided to use the extra color run, strips and pieces on the back, filling in the remainder with the teal batik.
Labeling is one of those things that is easily overlooked because it’s not vital to the quilt-making process. But, because I am giving this quilt as a late wedding gift to my cousin (the wedding quilt is in the long-term UFP pile), I thought a label recognizing their marriage is important.
The way I decided to incorporate a label actually became part of my back piecing. Deciding to stay far away from embroidery, I chose to give printable fabric a try. I picked up June Taylor Colorfast Printable Fabric from JoAnn Fabrics (with a 40% off coupon, of course). I hope to review it soon, but for now, suffice it to say that it seems to be somewhat color fast and printed just fine in my Canon PIXMA iP4300 (which is going on 4 years old now). I purchased white printable fabric, although you can also get cream. I figured white would allow a wider range of options in the future, since I’d have a lot left over. So, I printed a cream background to my label (which has faded a bit, hence the “somewhat” color fast). Having a border-less printer is really helpful here, as you either have to waste the printable fabric so that you can cut it down or have a printer that can do less than a 1/4″ margin on all sides of the label so that the white edges are hidden in seam allowances. My border-less printing settings weren’t behaving, but the print margins were < 1/4″, so all was well.
I set up a 3.5″x6″ (the width of the strip it was going into by a pretty arbitrary height) document in Illustrator and had fun designing a cool label, complete with a verse, my name, city, the date (Winter 2010/2011) and the name of the quilt. Drumroll please… “Bye-bye Blues… Welcome Verdant Spring.”
Putting it together
Once I’d created a label, I put it in a strip created from all the extra color run pieces. The strip is mostly in order of the color runs, but begins to skip when I ran out of some colors. I enclosed that strip with two strips cut from the color run leftovers (well, one was that spare one I’d cut accidentally).
I miscalculated the amount of fabric needed for the back, so I was short on the teal batik. I made up the difference using pieces of the other fabrics. Mainly G3 and B4, along with a lot of the black/brown paisley that was the original inspiration fabric and all the other little pieces left over from the front. I tried to use as little of the purple as possible on the back, because the poly is a bit harder to sew through than quilting cotton. One piece made it in as part of that stray slice I’d cut for the front.
The result is a back that is a little more tailored and interesting than a plain back (not that plain backs are boring—they can be amazing to look at the actual quilting of the quilt, but it’s really better to ignore that on one of mine as my quilting skills are very amateur).
Now it’s all sandwiched and waiting for me to quilt it!
What tips do you have for piecing backs? Is it something you do for most quilts, or do you prefer basic backs?
Now that the main section of the quilt is complete, it’s time to square it and add borders.
My quilt top was badly out of square. It’s kind of demoralizing it’s so badly out of square. Make sure you’re paying attention to how rows are lining up across the quilt, not just within row groups. Had I done that, I think it would have helped a lot. Instead, I was steam ironing the heck out of one section of the quilt trying to square it up a little by stretching it to match other sections. I don’t know if that’s the most advisable way to do it, but it worked relatively well. At least, it made the edges mostly square, but you can see where the row seams do not line up across the quilt.
The top and bottom rows are also not straight, because I had to cut an uneven amount to square up the sides. But, it happens sometimes, and you just have to roll with it.
The sides were mostly square, but the top and bottom weren’t. To square them up to add the borders, I taped the quilt to the floor, and measured center, then measured the top and bottom and lined up the borders so they were square, meaning that there were different amounts of seam allowance on the quilt top. After sewing the borders on (using the 1/4″ border allowance to guide me), I cut off the excess.
My teacher made one of the quilts from Twist and Turn Bargello Quilts by Eileen Wright. The prescribed border includes a 1/4″ strip much like the one Edie used on the pattern that I’m using.
The catch is, Wright has you cut a 1″ strip, fold it in half, and simply sew one end into the seam, leaving the other loose (similar to a prairie point border). After sewing eight 1/4″ rows in my quilt, I decided that this was the best thing since sliced bread, and used this method rather than piecing together the strips normally.
Wright also has you cut your borders on bias, which my teacher said made a huge difference in attaching them (much easier) and also hid any joins better than normal seams. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough fabric to do borders on the bias, but it is something to consider in the future, for sure. Also, because of my out-of-squareness, I am relying on my non-stretchy borders to help square it up. Bias borders would just bend out of square with the quilt top.
Instead of doing borders with half blue, half green like Edie used (well, blue/brown), I chose to use a blue inner border and green outer border, with brown binding. Edie’s pattern called for a 1/4″ inner border, 3/4″ outer border and 3/4″ binding, which I also modified. Mine are 1/4″ inner, 2 1/4″ outer (technically 2 1/2″, but 1/4″ is covered by the inner border), and 3/4″ binding. I added a wider outer border to infuse a little more color to the quilt. Once I finished the top, I felt that the browns and creams were overwhelming the blues and greens.
Here’s the completed top, including borders. The hanging shot is probably the most color-correct.
What tips do you have for squaring up quilts? What about adding borders?
So, back in November, I left you hanging about the progress of the bargello quilt. We didn’t have class in December, and I’m woefully behind because my machine was acting up and in the shop. But I have it back now, and it is time to get to work! Class this week focused on measuring and building borders, but I haven’t even completed the main part of the quilt. I need to finish it, have borders added and everything sandwiched for class in two weeks!
The progress so far
Because of how the color runs require swapping in and out different rows to get the color shift, the quilt is best constructed from the outside in. The pattern groups strips into different sections (A*–H*), and in my layout, B, C, F, and G all have strip swapping. This means from C-E, I’m able to focus on one side at a time, which I’ve done.
Overall, the progress has been pretty simple. Simply cut the right widths from the color run, swap out the required blocks for purple ones, and sew the strips together, alternating seam direction (sew every other one from the bottom up rather than top down). I’ve been sewing the strips for each group together (they range from 1–5 strips), then sewing each group to the next, rather than sewing each strip to the next for the whole quilt. As I mentioned when making the color runs, I think it lessens shifting and bowing.
You can see in the progress above that my current progress isn’t exactly square, although the angle of the photo and pinning I did exacerbate the problem in the photo.
One important thing to note when doing a staggered pattern like this is that the tops and bottoms of your rows will not be aligned. Rather, there will be a 1/4″ staggering effect because the half-blocks will not have the full seam allowance. Instead of trying to line up the rows, I start pinning by marking the midpoint of the second full block down and matching that up with the correct seam on the connecting row, then back tracking. If I ever find that my strips aren’t matching up correctly, I simply use that method again later, and adjust the ease through the intervening pieces.
For most rows, my plan to add in the purple contrasting curve simply requires removing one block from the color run and replacing it with a purple one of the correct width.
For a few strips, however, this would result in the purple taking over the existing curve, which I don’t want. So, toward the middle of the quilt, you’ll start to see partial blocks. The first one in the blue-dominant side is apparent on the far right of the progress.
I accomplish this by cutting out bits of the existing blocks (keep your seam allowances in mind!), and inserting the purple block midway, rather than substituting it for an entire block.
I made a very amateur mistake while my machine was in the shop. I decided to start cutting out all the little purple blocks so that I could start pinning everything together and be ready to sew once I got the machine back. Then, I misread my notes and ended up spending an hour cutting out pieces that were all .5″ too short—I forgot the seam allowance. It’s really de-motivating when you do something like that. But, we all must soldier on.
Even worse than the motivational factor is the fact that I don’t think I have enough purple left to re-cut all the pieces, so some of the middle ones will likely be pieced together, adding even more bulk and seams to the project. I’m hoping that I can get through all the strips with two purple blocks, and then piece together purple blocks for the center of the quilt, where there is only one block per strip.
Do you have any tips and tricks to keep your runs from shifting? What about getting yourself back in the mood to work on a project when you really mess up (like my cutting problem)?
With the color runs done for the bargello quilt, it’s time to start cutting out the strips for the quilt top. On one hand, it sounds simple: the pattern from the book tells me the widths I need for each piece… I just need to cut, right? But, in practice, the color shift across the quilt, combined with my plans to insert the purple “pop” pieces meant graphing it all out was a superb idea—and also the next step in my homework, along with starting to sew the pieces together.
Seam alignment and graphing
My teacher suggested using Microsoft Excel or a similar program to graph it all out, so I started with that, but it wasn’t lining up in a way that made sense. When cutting and piecing together your strips for Bargello, you have two basic choices: line the horizontal seams up, or stagger them. The quilt pattern I’m using is a staggered pattern (think brick laying)—so when I blocked it all out in a spreadsheet, everything was misaligned. Working from a pattern that is not staggered would have severely thrown off my piecing, since it changes the starting color of each row.
Plan two, which I should have done in the first place (considering it is what I’ve done in the past) was to open up Adobe Illustrator and block it out in that program. (Your mileage—especially if you’re not familiar with the program—may vary.)
Here’s what I came up with.
The first image has no color shifting. The second is the result straight from the instructions. Before deciding to use the pattern as-is from the book (well, prior to purple-izing it), I spent some time playing around with the color shifting as well. It’s quite simple to just swap the color of the blocks, although the color is clearly a poor substitution for the actual fabrics.
Adding the purple twist
Once I had a good graph of the color run cutting and color shifting, it was time to plan out my purple accent rows. This required a lot more playing. I knew that I wanted to do a competing curve rather than simply follow the existing ones. Ultimately, I decided on this structure:
When the curve directly mirrors the main curve, adding in my accents simply requires swapping out blocks. However, when the curve happens to correlate with the main curve, that approach will result in the purple completely taking over another color for a few blocks, which I didn’t want. This results in some trickier half-block replacements in certain rows. Having this graph to guide me is immensely useful.
So, at present, I’m cutting out all of my columns and inserting the color shift blocks and purple accent blocks—which requires a lot of seam ripping. There’s no solid goal for next class—just to have started piecing everything together and to bring in any questions we’ve come up with. Next time I update, I’ll be showing you progress of piecing together the rows.
What tools do you normally use to plan out your quilts (bargello or other)?
Two weeks ago, I showed you my color choices and pattern for the bargello quilt I’m making as part of a bi-weekly class. Our homework before this week’s class was to create our color map and have all of our fabric cut into strips and sewn into color runs for the quilt.
Bargello quilts are made by strip piecing, which means sewing together long strips of fabric, and then cutting the result to create the pieces used in piecing together the quilt. The foundation of the bargello technique is using strip piecing to create color runs: rectangles of fabric made from equal-width strips of your fabric. The color runs are then cut perpendicular to the sewn seams in different widths to create the curves of the quilt.
The pattern I chose has rather tall rows—3″. That means, all of my strips were cut to 3.5″ (for a 1/4″ seam allowance on both sides). Cutting was simple with a rotary cutter, mat and 6×24″ ruler. Then it was time to actually start sewing!
One place Wright and Edie differ is how to sew together your color runs. The most difficult part of this step is to create the color run without having the strips begin to dip in the center—called bowing. To counteract this tendency, both Wright and Edie recommend altering each seam direction as you create your color run. So, you sew the first seam in one direction and the next one the opposite, and keep switching back and forth.
Wright suggests sewing all of your strips in pairs with the same seam direction: 1 to 2, 3 to 4, 5 to 6, etc. Then, you sew your pairs to each other with seams going the opposite way, continuing to sew the groups together until the color run is finished.
Edie takes the sequential approach and has you sew each piece to the next in order, switching seam directions as you go. Wright’s recommended method is a bit faster I think, since you can chain piece all the pairs, and is the one I chose to use.
Another place Wright and Edie differ is how to place the ends of the strips. Wright proposes to line them up evenly on one end, creating only one jagged end (due to differences between manufacturer’s fabric widths). Edie counsels arranging the ends based off the shortest strip, creating two jagged edges that supposedly allows you to have more useable strips. I figure, the shortest is the shortest, regardless of how ends are set up and used Wright’s way instead. Only one jagged end also makes Wright’s method a little less confusing: when you sew the pairs, you sew from the side where the edges meet. When you sew all the other seams, you sew from the uneven side; this is an easy way to tell which direction you should be sewing your seam.
Using Wright’s method, I didn’t experience notable bowing. In addition to the speed advantage that I spoke of, I also think that her method keeps you from making exponential errors. If you sew each piece to the next one, any previous bowing will continue to get worse as the issue is compounded down the line. When you sew the groups together, you don’t experience as much of an issue because you are working in smaller chunks that don’t inherit the mistakes of each previous piece.
Unfortunately, I missed Monday’s class (and a day of work) with some sort of bug. I did find out today that the homework is to start cutting the actual strips from the color runs and piecing them together, so I’ll be talking about that in my next post. Also, please forgive me for the poor quality images. My phone’s camera had to do, as the real camera was unavailable.
Do you have a preference for either of these methods? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.