Tuesday, May 6, 2014

in progress

Occasionally, I get a request for a tiny quilt that really isn't so tiny.  The one I'm building now, for example, is 15" by 60", more of a tiny mural.  These projects take longer than others, so my goal of having a new tiny quilt to share every week gets stretched out a bit.  

I thought I'd share some method notes in the meantime. The creation of a tiny quilt goes like this:

Sketches and dreams
I doodle a lot. I also lie in bed before falling asleep and think about designs. Sometimes I have to get up and sketch before I can actually go to sleep. I look around a lot. I take pictures of odd things. I wonder later on why I took them sometimes, but ah, well. Eventually, I pick a design and count up the number of colors I will need.

Color choices
If I don't already have some colors in mind, I open up all my fabric bags and lay out every piece of folded fabric on my table. I keep them in plastic bags sorted by color family, so sometimes I don't have to drag out everything. I start piling and re-piling until I have what I want.

Drawing the full size design
Paper, pencil and a measuring device are all that's needed here. I'm fond of brown paper bags. I save junk mail with a clean side to draw on. I also have a roll of pristine brown patterning paper when I want to get fancy.

Cutting the design into patterns
This part requires some logistics, as I try to only use one copy of the design, but if there are overlapping parts, I may have to go back to the step above and make multiple copies to be able to cut all the pieces. I cut out the shapes.

Tracing the patterns on fabric
For dark fabrics, I use a Bohin chalk pencil. For light fabrics, I use the standard #2 pencil. The line will be turned under the seam edge, so it won't show in the finished piece.

Cutting the fabric
The first step is cutting the background fabric to size. I mark it 1/4" larger than the finished size, so I can sew on the binding.  I cut a rough 1" outside that marked line to allow for handling while the piece is getting built. The shaped pieces are also cut a rough 1" to 1/2" outside the marked line so they can be manipulated without the edges fraying until the last minute before the appliqué stitches are made.

The patterned shapes are basted onto the backing using white thread. Basting is so much easier than using pins (ouchy!). There is always some minor fabric distortion (holes) when the basting thread is removed, but it can easily be rubbed out. Pins make bigger holes, so basting is a win all around.

I use small, sharp embroidery scissors, thin appliqué needles and the best color match of Gütermann thread I can find. I pick a place to start, cut a few inches ahead to a depth of 1/8" from the marked line, turn the fabric under with the needle and advance some tiny stitches along the line and off we go. Stitch and cut, cut and stitch.

Set up the quilt layers
When all the shapes are appliquéd in place and the basting has been removed, it's time to make the quilt sandwich. I use white fabric on the back and cotton batting sheets in between. The top is placed on the two layers and then rough cut about 1" from the finished marked edge. Basting stitches hold the layers in place while the final quilting is done.

I use the same thread to quilt as I do to appliqué. This is not the type of thread one would use in a bed quilt that will have to hold its own weight in the washing cycle. That thread is very heavy duty. Tiny quilts are not designed to see much action in a washing machine, nor are they very heavy, so I use the same light, thin thread that I already have in the matching color. I quilt around the outside of all the major shapes. Sometimes I don't quilt overlapping pieces, as the extra stitching really doesn't help the piece stay together. For me, the quilting part is secondary to the appliqué design, so I don't do anything fancy here.

I cut four 1.25" binding strips, usually of the same fabric as the foundation color. I used to do nice mitered corners using one long strip of binding, but, after many experiments, decided I liked the corners done square. Using an edge and rotary cutting tool, I square up the marked lines for the finished edge. Sometimes the line becomes distorted while the piece is sewn and it is much nicer to sew binding on a straight edge. I use my tiny sewing machine to attach the binding strips to the front side of the quilt, sewing opposite edges on in pairs. Then I flip the quilt to the back, trim the corners and bind each side independently to make the corners come out as neatly as I can.

I print my name and the title of the quilt on the white backside in permanent ink. We're done!

Ok, so not quite done. I keep an inventory of the quilts I've made, dating back to the 80's, so the new tiny quilt needs to be added. Then, it's time for the photo session and blog entry.