Tuesday, January 24, 2017

QAYG Sampler - Week 1 - Nine Patch Block

Quilt As You Go Sampler Quilt - Week 1

   Quilt as you go (QAYG) is a quilt making technique that allows you to quilt most of each block as you piece it. I like the fact that I can carry in my purse the makings of one block to work on in waiting rooms, in front of the television, sitting in the sun when the weather is nice. I am never overwhelmed by a big project as I am only working on and (mostly) finishing one entire quilt block at a time. One is a very easy number to work with.  In this case, I am making a very simple beginners quilt to be completely finished before Christmas. 
   The first two weeks of a four week rotation will consist of piecing the quilt block and various tips, the second two weeks will explain the quilting process for that block. Along the way I will show how to sew together the blocks we make. You can either sew them together as we make them or you can wait until the amount of blocks you wish to make for your size project is finished to begin the final step. Twelve blocks should take us 48 weeks. 

   Of course, you could opt to just make one quilt block and use it as a hot plate or wall hanging. Make a few of them for a table runner or baby quilt. I will be discussing how to complete all of these options. You may decide to use only one of the quilt block patterns to make an entire quilt of any size.  Those are all totally acceptable and doable goals.  My goal is to show you that this is something ANYONE can do quite easily and for "as little money as possible" to "the sky is the limit" budgets.

Nine Patch Block

Nine Patch Block

  Alas, I have discovered, much to my chagrin, that I am not very handy with operating a camera one handed whilst attempting to show detail. And after looking at my pictures, It probably will be easier to see detail more easily with solid fabrics. Well, I can at least say I have had a successful day learning something new.  If you never remember another piece of advice from any of my posts, remember that if you are not making mistakes, you are not taking enough chances and are not learning anything worth remembering.  As for me, I've learned I need to get one of the kids to come over and take the pictures for me. Sigh. Well, in the interest of saving time, I will do my best with what I have for this block. Luckily for me (and anyone reading this), the Nine Patch block is probably the easiest block in a quilter's versatile arsenal. Please let me know in the comments if there is anything unclear about my instructions. I am always open to improvement.

   NOTE: The following are instructions for a straight ruler and a square ruler as I don't want anyone to run out and spend money they can't afford.  People DID quilt before the invention of the really nice, but not necessary for success, helpful items. This is where I started.  Before some experienced quilters out there ask why I have not explained how to straighten fabric, measure from salvages and such, I just want to note that when you are cutting up old clothing or household goods, you almost never have salvages to measure from. I always chose the least worn areas of these items to use for quilting and other recycling projects. I WILL get to measuring and cutting new fabric in a later post.  My purpose is to get those people with few resources but lots of motivation to be just as successful as those who are blessed with more options.

Guidelines to a(n almost) perfect 12" block:

Cutting blocks.

   To begin a nine patch block you must start with a size 4 1/2 inch square of fabric. Using a scrap of fabric, line up your ruler along a warp or weft thread. These are the weave lines of woven fabrics that run vertically and horizontally. (I eventually plan to cover t-shirt quilts that are a knit fabric at a later date, but for now, let's stick with something easy) 

Straight ruler: Draw a line about six inches long. From this original line, measure and mark 4 1/2 inches to the right near ends of the line. Connect your dots so that you have two parallel lines. Lay ruler to the right of the original line so that the end is near the top and make a perpendicular line creating a square corner using the ruler end. Use this corner to line up and connect the two parallel lines. At the top corner of the original line, from the points of the intersected corner you just created, measure down 4 1/2 inches on original line then repeat the same process of creating a square corner using ruler end and extend it to the parallel line.  You should now have a square. Check to make sure all corners are square, then measure every line to ensure you are accurate in their lengths. I can't stress enough the need to measure twice, cut once. TIP: To save yourself some time you can cut a template using this method from the side of a plastic gallon milk jug. Just ensure that you measure every side and the check the squareness of your corners by making a test square before continuing. You are just ensuring the template creates fabric squares that are exactly 4 1/2 inch square. Or another method is to measure and cut graph paper to measure the plastic template then mark, cut out and make test square. Be sure to write on template it's size is with a sharpie or with pencil and masking tape..

Square ruler: Draw a line about six inches long. From this original line, lay ruler on the 4 1/2 inch marks and draw a parallel line. Using the top square edge line up and connect the two parallel lines 4 1/2" from each other to create a 4 1/2 inch square. Measure every line and check for squareness of corners. Do NOT take this for granted. Make this test square even if you are using a rotary cutter to make these squares because even a 1/16th of an inch makes a difference when spread along many blocks! (Yes. I have not measured twice before I cut once and made this mistake too many times much to my detriment. My learning curve was more than a little long, especially when I was in a hurry) You can use the tip above to make an exact template made from a milk jug to create squares and to test the measurements of a square. Or you can purchase a 4 1/2 inch square similar to the one in the picture. Again, I would wait for a sale or coupon as these can be pricey.

   At this point you will want to cut (4) 4 1/2 " squares out of one fabric and (5) 4 1/2" squares out of a contrasting second fabric.

Sewing line guides.

   I am sure there are many quilters out there who have learned over time to sew a straight line. I am not one of them and since the accuracy of measurement is the easiest and shortest way to success, I recommend you make sewing line guides at least until you are able to judge by eye consistently a scant quarter inch seam. 

Using your ruler, measure 1/4 inch from the edges of your square and draw a line with a lead pencil or a chalk pencil. TIP: Since chalk boards for adults seem to be making a comeback you can find lead pencil sized chalk pencils for fairly cheap instead of the ones found in fabric and specialty stores which inevitably cost more because they packaged as a "specialty" pencil. (I have never had a problem with the chalk washing out if shown on quilt top)

To knot or not to knot?

   This is another area that I have notice many people differ. I will explain what I believe are the differences in beginning a seam with a knot or a back stitch (or both).

   Making a knot in your thread before you start your running stitch keeps you from pulling the thread out the first time you pull your thread through the fabric and helps keep your layers from coming apart. Some quilters I've read will also make a back stitch along with a knot to ensure that seam will never come apart without a seam ripper.

   There is one reason I am not of either of these camps of thought. Something I have discovered over the years from using recycled clothing is that knots will rub and wear the fabric eventually breaking woven threads and creating a hole. Using new fabric will extend the life of a quilt in this regard but only to a point. So when piecing a quilt top (or any sewing I did/do for my family) starts with a back stitch that I make sure is snug by holding the tail end of the thread when starting a seam and giving it a gentle pull to 'set' or tighten the first stitch slightly before starting my running stitch. I have never had a seam come apart. This is a purely personal choice on your part.

To make a back stitch: Starting where the two guide lines intersect (NOT the edge of fabric), push your needle through both layers and come back up and pull thread through until you are left with about a one inch 'tail'. Hold the tail firmly with your thumb and again push your needle through your two layers of fabric at or near your first entry point coming back up at or near your first return of needle. Gently pull thread through until the stitch flattens out, then give it a slight tug to 'set'.

To make a running stitch: Push your needle back and forth several times through your fabric 'loading' your needle with three or four stitches just above your guide line. (between guide line and edge). This is called making a scant quarter inch seam. 

Why not just stitch on the guide line? Make a mental picture of the following description: Three squares sewn side by side, carefully pressed (creating a fold in the fabric at the seam in the direction seam is pressed which uses slightly more fabric). The two squares are slightly larger than the 4 1/2 inch square, one is slightly smaller. One square has a exact quarter inch seam but when pressed, the fold creates a slightly smaller sewn square. One square has slightly less than a quarter inch seam, one square slightly larger. All of these slight differences don't make a lot of difference across one finished pieced block but add the other finished blocks next to it to make a quilt top can add up. If you measure your pieced 12 inch block and slightly adjust each quilt block when necessary by slightly trimming it to exactly 12 inches ensures your quilt blocks will be even and seams will line up. It's easier to make a finished block slightly smaller than it is to make it slightly bigger.

Stitch size: It's funny. I remember having this conversation about stitch sizes almost forty years ago on my first quilting project. I watched my future mother in law sew a perfectly straight line (something I still have problems doing without a guide) with the tiniest stitches I had ever seen and despaired of ever being able to duplicate this.  She looked down at her seam and laughed and said she remembered having the same conversation with her first sewing teacher. Then she gave me the best advice that I will now pass on to you. How small your stitches are isn't as important as making them even.  So feel free to make stitches that are a quarter inch or less wide (approximately) and try to make them consistently the same size because when you compare the seam below to the one you sew, when you open the seam and look on the right side, the seams will look almost identical! How cool is that? She also told me, and I've found to be true, that as you work to make your stitches consistently even, they tend to become smaller. Why would you want small stitches then? The more stitches, the stronger the seam, but this is relative. Seams fail where one is stronger than the others. Hence the reason why making stitches even, is more important. (I think I will sew up some examples for a future post to demonstrate)

   Ok. Now you are ready to begin. Using the first picture of this blog post as a guide to placement, start the first row by taking one of the squares you have (5) of and one of the squares you have (4) of and sandwich them by placing right sides together and line up the edges. Pin in place with several straight pins to keep squares aligned while you sew the seam. Keeping all the above in mind and choosing how you will start (and finish) a seam, make your first stitch where the two guide lines meet. (Why not at the edge, you ask? Keep going, you will see why this makes a difference when you start connecting rows.) Start your first running stitch with several stitches and see what is most comfortable for you to stitch and pull. Continue until you reach the intersection of lines at the end and make a back stitch (or knot if you so choose), pulling slightly to 'set' the stitch. Clip thread leaving about a one inch tail. You have made your first seam!

   Next, repeat using the last square in the row by again putting right sides together against the middle square lining up edges. Pin in place then sew exactly the same way as the first seam.  It just occurred to me that my pictures do not show my early use of pins, but yes, I used them to keep the squares from sliding out of alignment while sewing them.

   You have now finished your first row! I should have taken a picture of the front because when you open yours up and turn it over, it will look exactly the same. Now using the first picture as a placement guide, sew your next row being certain that the two end square are NOT the same fabric as the first row. (yes, I've done this too many times to count). I usually line up the blocks into the finished block then sew from left to right like I was reading a book to make sure I didn't mix up the sewing order.

   Now is the time for sewing rows together.  Place the first row on a table with the WRONG side facing up.  Finger press the seams so that they face toward the outer edges of the block. See photograph below.  Repeat with the second row but this time finger press the edges toward the center as shown below.  Now, with the top row on the bottom, RIGHT side facing up, put the second row RIGHT side down on top of the first row, aligning edges. (In other words, RIGHT sides facing each other) Starting pinning with the left seam, (see above) so that the alignment of the edges remain opposite of each other (see below), then pin the right seam. Once you are sure the pins will hold the seams in the correct position, then pin the rest of the row ensuring all edges line up. 

Why do you want to alternate the seams? As you sew the two rows together, you will notice it is easier to make the stitches over the seam one at a time instead of loading several stitches on your needle. This is because you are sewing through four layers of fabric at the seams. Sewing through eight layers would be infinitely more difficult. It also will place bulk  where it would be seen as a lump when you quilt this area. So instead, you alternate the seams.

   When you finish sewing the two rows together, they will look something like the above when you open it up. Finger press the four square intersections so that the centers 'fan' as shown below. THIS is why you do not sew a seam edge to edge like you would on clothes. This fan helps keep the seams facing the correct directions.

   Continue by sewing together the last row.  Before adding the last row in the exact same manner as the first two rows make sure your seams are facing inward like row 1 and make sure the seam you are sewing places the last row on the opposite side of row two. In other words, pin and then look on the right side of block gently opening the unpinned side of pinned row to make sure the block will look like the picture below when the seam has been sewn just to be sure it is in the correct position. (yes, I have sewn row 3 to row 1 enough times to check this after I pin it)


   Guess what? You have sewn the top of your first quilt block! Hooray!  When you turn it over, it will look like the first picture of this post.  If you would like, you can tell me in the comments whether it was easier, harder or the same as what you thought it would be?

Week 2: How to iron your beautiful quilt square and get it ready for quilting.

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