You Put a Hex On Me!

Here in New York, my daily commute is nearly an hour on the subway. Until I find a way to convince my employer to move out to Brooklyn (unlikely!), I will be in search of crafts to occupy my time on the train. Quilting doesn’t usually come to mind when one thinks of crafting on-the-go, but with just a little at-home prep work, English paper piecing is one way that you can take it with least for the piecing part.

Back in January I decided that I wanted to make a Grandmother’s garden quilt, which will take almost 2,000 individual pieces. Ouch. I expect to be done sometime around 2015. If you’re not into that level of time commitment, you could always sew up a few flowers and then applique them onto other blocks, or make cute little flower coasters. I think that they would also make adorable elbow patches for a sweater or jacket. Once you have the technique down, you could also move on to other small interlocking shapes.

These little hexagons are quite the rage in the online craft world right now. You can see some nice examples here, here, and here.

• Piece of fabric—at least 4” x 6” for the flower petals
• Small scrap of fabric for the center
• Freezer paper
• iron
• Scissors
• Needle and thread
• Nail clippers or small thread cutter

First you need a template. I created mine in Illustrator and I occasionally sit down to trace little hexagons onto freezer paper and cut out a bunch at a time. You might think I’ve got too much time on my hands, but really I’m just cheap—there are also companies that sell pre-cut paper templates if you’re not quite as masochistic as me. You will need 7 hexagons for each flower; 6 petals and one flower center. Cut your templates out of the freezer paper and place them shiny-side down onto the wrong side of your larger piece of fabric. They should be at least 1/2” apart to allow for a 1/4” seam. Set your iron to the cotton setting and iron over the 6 petal pieces to fuse them to the fabric. Repeat with the 7th piece on the smaller fabric scrap. Cut each hexagon from your fabric, leaving a 1/4” border all the way around the paper template. Some people just cut a square around the hexagon, but that leaves too much bulk in the seams for my taste.
From here on out your project is portable! Stash it in your bag and it’s ready to go with you on the train, in the car—even on the plane! Next, thread your needle and knot one end of the thread. Hold the hexagon with the paper/wrong side facing you. Fold the seam allowance down over the paper template. Use the needle and thread to make long basting stitches through the 2 layers of fabric and the template. (Do your neighbors a favor and pull the needle straight down or else straight back toward yourself—no one likes the feeling of a needle coming at them!)
When you come to the corner fold the next side over the template and continue all the way around the hexagon. You want to strike a balance between speed (you will be pulling these stitches out later) and accuracy (you want to keep the shape fairly true so that the blocks will fit together later). Take 2 short stitches to hold the thread when all of the edges have been turned under. Cut the thread (I carry nail clippers and a little thread cutter with me on the train) and continue turning the edges of all seven pieces. Now take two petal pieces and place them right sides together, aligning the edges. Using your needle and thread, whip stitch one edge together. Finish with a few tight stitches on top of each other. Cut your thread and repeat with the remaining 4 petals. You will now have 3 sets of two petals. It’s the flower center’s time to shine! Open one of the flower petals sets. Take the flower center piece and match it, right sides together, to one of the flower petals. Whip stitch one edge together, starting from the outside and stitching towards the second petal. (I’m right-handed, so I start on the right side and stitch left). When you come to the end of that side, open the flower center seam and fold it back down, repositioning it so that you can stitch the second edge to the second petal (you will have to fold the first petal in half to do so).
Continue this all around with the other 2 petal sets.

You should now have the 3 double-petal sections attached to the center. The final step is to whip stitch the petal sections together—just 3 more seams! After you've sewn all of the petals together, carefully pick out the basting thread from the center. Gently pull the freezer paper template out from the center piece. You may have to tug a little if it is caught in your whip-stitches. It’s up to you what you do next. If—like me—you’re now hooked, you start another flower set and just keep going, trying not to think too much about how many flowers lie ahead of you. Otherwise, applique the flower to another piece of fabric (again removing basting threads and paper templates carefully as you go and move on. I have fallen in love with this technique because it allows me to have a (very) long term project that includes lots of short-term immediate satisfaction as I complete each flower. I love seeing the little flower pile grow. It is also a very compact little project that can be tucked into my purse and pulled out for those inevitable train delays, traffic jams, and long layovers.
Then I'm marching ever-so-slowly towards my goal—even if I'm sitting still!

Wedding memory quilts

There is something timeless and sentimental about a quilt, and quilts can be a great way to capture memories from a wedding. I've made two wedding quilts. A bit of how-to:

Bridal Shower Quilt:
--The bride decided on her favorite quilt colors. I selected light-colored fabrics in a variety of solid and subtle cotton prints and used a rotary cutter and cutting mat to trim the fabrics into large squares.
--At the bridal shower, each guest was given a fabric square and a selection of permanent fabric markers. Participants were asked to write a message to the couple on the squares-- well wishes, words of wisdom, etc... Guests were asked to leave a one-inch blank border around the edge of the fabric square for a seam allowance.
--After the shower, I sewed the squares into a simple patchwork quilt. To add graphic interest I also included a few appliqued quilt squares.
--The end result was great. The couple married in 2002 and still have the quilt, which includes messages from their closest relatives and friends.

Wedding Chuppah:
--After hearing about the bridal shower quilt that I'd made, I was asked to make a chuppah for a friend's wedding. A chuppah is a canopy under which a Jewish wedding takes place. The photo on the right is an example of one used at an outdoor wedding (from 'paperandthreads').
--Large cream-colored cotton quilt squares (cut to 10x10 inches) were mailed out to 30 of the couple's close friends and family. Each person was asked to decorate a quilt square with some kind of memory for the couple, and then mail them back. Participants were asked to leave a blank one-inch border around the square for a seam allowance, so I didn't sew into their designs.
--The completed quilt squares were beautiful! Each one was an individual work of art, some serious, some silly. The squares included handwritten messages, iron-on photos, embroidery, etc....
--I sewed the squares into a patchwork quilt and added a border around the outside edge of the quilt. At each corner of the quilt I added a buttonhole.
--To make the quilt into a chuppah, I purchased thick wooden dowels (approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter) and cut them to an appropriate height. At the top of each dowel I screwed in large metal rings. The chuppah was attached to the wooden poles with ribbons that tied through the button holes and the metal rings. The poles were decorated with flowers and vines for the ceremony.
--At the wedding ceremony, the couple married under this special chuppah, filled with well-wishes from many of their wedding guests. The chuppah is in their wedding photos and is a lasting memory of their wedding and the good wishes people had for them as they embarked on their marriage.

A {NewNew} How To: Patchwork Blanket - Combat Global Warming with Style

While I was thinking about what to contribute to our Earth Day blogging, trying to come up with a project that anyone could do, the idea of patchwork blankets kept coming to mind. I thought maybe it was too late for a tutorial on making blankets as it is almost May, but here in NY it has still been very cold, and we just had a blog posts on Salvaged Designer Fabrics and on our Pre Earth Day Team Swap. It actually seemed to make sense. I have made these simple patchwork blankets for myself, for friends and family and so I decided to share this “how to that anyone can do” with you.

As a scenic and costume designer for theatre I have always had lots of bits of fabric from various projects around. Many of the pieces of fabric I had were too small to make anything out of, but too nice to throw out. Some reminded me of specific shows I had designed and I wanted to give them all a new life and save them from the garbage.

If you have access to a sewing machine and can stitch a straight line you can do this project. No patterns, very little measuring. Easy. Eco-friendly. Fab. Here’s how:

1) Gather your fabrics and decide on a theme or color palette. You can use any kind of fabric – You might have things around the house just dying for a new life. Here are some ideas:

Leftover fabric scraps
Vintage fabrics
Favorite shirt or blouse that got ripped or got a stain (concert t-shirts, etc.)
Your favorite sweater that you accidentally shrunk in the wash.
That article of clothing that doesn’t fit anymore. (must have shrunk too!)
That gift item that you were given but never used.
Any nice fabric bits that need a new life

2) Decide on the size of your squares. For this blanket you don’t need lots of the same fabric. For the blanket pictured I cut 7 & ½ inch squares based on the scraps I had available. I only have 1 square of some fabrics, 2 or 3 of others, it doesn’t matter – you can use whatever you have. To decide the size of your squares just look at the smallest scrap that you want to use and don’t make your squares smaller than that – it’s that simple.

3) Trace out your squares & cut. I cut a square template out of the cardboard from the back of a used notepad. Trace around your square template to get all your squares a uniform size. If you are careful in keeping your squares the same size everything will line up easier when you stitch it all together. Cut your squares out on your lines. (To see how many squares you will need see step #4)

If you are a beginner – here are some tips to keep this project simple: Use fabrics that are somewhat similar in weight and consistency. Don’t use fabrics that are too thick or heavy or too thin. Or, if you want to use a lighter weight fabric back it with something more stable, like a basic shirt-weight cotton. You can attach them together with a fusible product like “Stitch Witchery” or just attach them together as you zig or surge the edges. You can also back fabrics if you want to use something that is sheer or lacey. It’s best to keep woven fabrics “on grain” – this just means place your template so that the threads of the fabric are going the same direction as the edges of your template. This isn’t an absolute must, but will make it easier to stitch as your fabrics will be more stable and not give and stretch.

4) Decide on the size of the overall blanket. You can make this type of blanket any size you want. The one pictured is 8 columns/10 rows of squares - about 48 inches by 62 inches. It is narrow enough that I was able to use a single solid width of fabric for the backing. You can decide on your overall size based on what you want to use as your backing and how much fabric you have available or the size of blanket you want. Once you know the size of the blanket you want to make you can easily do some basic math and find out how many squares you need.

5) Zig-Zig stitch over the edges. Once you have cut out all your squares I recommend doing a zig-zag stitch around the edges or serge them if you have access to a serger, but don’t trim the size down as you surge so they will still all be the same size. This will help keep them from fraying and make the blanket more durable.

6) Compose your blanket design. I just lay mine out on the floor. If you have a tile floor you can use the tile grid as a guide to help you layout all your squares. I usually start by spacing out my lightest and darkest squares and then fill in with the other squares, but you can compose your blanket in any way you like. I like mine to be somewhat random, but I generally avoid having two squares of the same fabric very close to each other. You can arrange them in any way you like.

7) Stack it. Once you have placed all your squares to compose your blanket you are almost ready to start sewing. Take the first square of your first column and stack it on top of the next square down, then stack those two squares on the third one, and so on. This will make sure you keep it all in order and maintain your composition. When you have stacked your first column, just pin it all together with a large safety pin through a post-it note and label it “column 1” and continue to the next column. Once you have all of your columns stacked in order and labeled you are ready to sew.

8) Stitch your first stack into a long strip. Place you first square from the top of your first stack on your table and place the second square on top of it, with the faces together. (If there is a pattern or top/bottom to the fabrics be sure to maintain this as you stitch things together.) Stitch the two squares together ¾ from the edge. (the bottom of square #1 to the top of square #2, face to face) Continue like this going through your stack top to bottom until you have one long strip of squares. You may not even need to pin these if you are comfortable with sewing and depending on the size of your squares. If you are a beginner a few pins doesn’t hurt. (keep each of your columns marked with the number so you can maintain your composition.)

9) Repeat step #7 for each column/stack.

10) Press your seams open. From the back of your strips just press all of your seams open flat so that the seam allowances are pushed out away from the actual seams.

11) Stitch your columns together. Place column #2 (now a long strip) face to face on top of column/strip #1. You will probably want to pin things together here. As I pin things together, edge to edge and face to face, I make sure that I am matching up the four corners nicely. Once it is pinned, stitch the two strips together, ¾ inch from the edge as before.

12) Repeat step #10 until all of your columns are attached and you have the front side of your blanket as one nice, big patchwork.

13) Press your new vertical seams open, as you did before.

14) Top stitch (optional) At this point you may do some top stitching if you like, it’s a nice detail, but not necessary. From the front of your blanket stitch straight top-stitch lines to both sides of your stitch lines. As you stitch, make sure that your seam allowances stay pushed out away from the seam. Top stitching like this will keep those seams nice and flat. Top stitch both your vertical seams and your horizontal seams. It will look like this:

15) Attach a backing. At this point you are ready to attach a backing to your blanket. I have often used an interesting textured corduroy or something else soft with a little body in a similar weight to the front of your blanket. All you have to do is lay your backing fabric out on the floor (or table) face up and place your patch work face down on top of it. Line it up nicely and pin the edges together. Trim your backing down to be a little bigger than your patchwork front. Then just stitch around the outside, (with ¾ inch seam allowance as before) leaving about 12 inches open on one side. You now have an inside-out almost finished blanket. Pull the blanket through the opening so that it is no longer inside out. Admire.

16) Press the outside edge flat and make sure your corners are pushed out. You may need to trim the seam allowance at the corners down a bit to make them less bulky and then push them out with something pointy (but not sharp) so they are nice and square and crisp.

17) Stitch the opening closed by hand with a nice tidy stitch.

18) Top stitch around the outside as you topstitched on each side of your seams.

19) Admire your new fabulous eco-friendly hand-made one-of-a-kind blanket.

20) Make popcorn & get cozy under blanket. Enjoy!

Coming up this week.....

--On Saturday from 2-6:00 Rational Animal is leading a project that aims to make 500 comforters to line the kennel cages of animals awaiting adoption in NYC shelters. The project is called 'Mother's Comfort' and 45 quilts have already been made with the help of volunteers from Rational Animal and Etsy. Contact Rational Animal if you're interested in helping on Saturday or with future Mother's Comfort events. (photo thanks to Milo, my rescue dog)

--Shecky's annual Girl's Night Out is coming up next week in Manhattan. Shop commercial and handmade items, drink and eat a bit, go home with a goody bag! Tickets are still available for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

--'Harnessing Brooklyn's Creative Capital: The Impact of Self-Employed Creative Professionals on the Borough's Economy' is a forum March 5th from 8:30-10:30 AM at the Grand Army Plaza branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. This forum will address the challenges faced by self-employed creative freelancers such as writers, photographers, and designers, and will explore strategies to support this part of Brooklyn's economy. Admission is free but reservations are recommended. Sponsored by Center for an Urban Future and Brooklyn Economic Development Coorporation.

I recently found out about the following organizations that aim at distributing unwanted materials to people who can use them for art and craft activities and education. Definitely worth checking out if you're an artist, crafter, educator, or work for a nonprofit organization:

--The Materials Resource Center in Ronkonkoma, NY is a resource of recycled materials waiting to be reused in art or educational projects. It looks like they may have materials available such as small clear ziploc bags (perfect for storing small craft items), beads, buttons, cardboard, etc... They also lead workshops for children and teachers and have a mobile recycling center.

--Materials for the Arts is another local organization aimed at getting unwanted materials to art and nonprofit organizations that can put the materials to good use. If you are involved in a school or nonprofit organization, you may be eligible to receive donated materials from Materials for the Arts.