Sunday, 7 October 2012

Essential tools for quilters (I)

Weekend industry
Normally on a Sunday evening I go to the gym - I know that sounds rather extreme but when a princess is powering up and down the swimming pool, I feel that a yomp in the gym with London Calling ringing in my ears is more constructive than sitting on an uncomfortable sofa in a deserted cafe, leafing through the dregs of the Sunday papers.

But today was different. I was so very close to finishing a quilt top for the sofa, just another quarter of an hour ... when the phone rang. And by the time I had dealt with that, it was time to depart into the darkness in pursuit of health and fitness. The choice was painful, but I volunteered the Head Chef for swimming club duty (a chance for him to sit down for an hour and read the papers, I said, considerately).

Dear readers, you will be glad to hear that I have finished my quilt top, and done my favourite bit, attacked it with a steam iron and beaten those seams into an orderly submission. Having started out with dressmaking, and having been taught to apply copious amounts of hot steam at every opportunity, the technique of gentle pressing without steam, as recommended in all the patchwork and quilting books I read, requires a most astonishing act of will on my part.

Unfortunately, it is now too dark to photograph the quilt top, but earlier today I was having some very deep thoughts about the tools which I find most useful for quilting, the ones without which it would all end in tears.

And so I thought I would share these thoughts with you, in the hope that perhaps one quilter, sitting miserably amongst a heap of disorderly pieces of fabric might find my handy hints of help.

Bulldogs should be colourful

So for me, essential quilting tool no 1 is a basket of bulldog clips and miniature sticky notes (the teeny tiny ones can stay in the fabric until it is safe for them to leave and they don't get in the way of the gentle pressing, but their presence will preclude you from committing aggressive acts of steam). I set out my quilt pieces on a sheet on the B&B sitting-room floor in the gaps between guests, and so they have to be gathered up again immediately (and even if we don't have guests, we have canine marauders with muddy feet and a penchant for scuffling up any textiles found underfoot).

Pin your post-its

So to avoid much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I pin numbered sticky notes (at the very least at the beginning and end of a row, to indicate position and orientation), then pick the pieces or blocks up in the correct order, and fasten the stack with a bulldog clip. (Please don't rely on the adhesive qualities of your sticky notes - go for belt and braces with a pin. [I know this from bitter experience.])

Future proof

These stacks are then windproof, dog-proof, and generally forgetting what you are about in the middle of a row proof.

I feel that it is important to have brightly coloured bulldog clips as it lends an air of jollity to the proceedings, but have less strong feelings about the colour of the sticky notes, probably because the numbers and letters give them a serious, businesslike air, which does not take heed of such frivolity.

And one last little thrifty hint - write on those little tickets in pencil. It allows for mistakes, and you can reuse them for the next quilt. Presuming that there will be a next quilt, but of course there will be because these handy little tools for your quilting will increase your productivity no end, and you won't be stomping around with a seam ripper trying to find someone to blame for sewing the pieces together in the wrong order, and not noticing until you have nearly finished the quilt.

{Your eye may have been drawn to the most excellent velvet pincushion. This pincushion was one of the very first things I made with my very first sewing machine (before you go ah, how sweet, bear in mind that I was about 30), and I gave it to my grandmamma for Christmas. Along with the rest of my family, she was most surprised as I hadn't shown any signs of creativity beforehand. Things had changed by the time her house was being cleared and the pincushion (long-forgotten by me) was given to me as the stitchy one in the family. So now when I sew I have by my side a lovely remembrance of my dear departed grandmamma.}

And before I go, I must say hello to some new followers who have come on board: Naturally Carol who has just done a lovely post about gratitude, Poppy at Poppy's Frugal Life (being frugal), Rosie at Old Magnolia Tree (who needs some advice about fashion and knitting), Chey at The Other Side of the Pond (just starting life in the UK), Sharon Souter at Sharon's Sunlit Memories (who designs the most wonderful paper dolls), and Tammy Chrzan at My Journey. Please go and say hello and welcome too!

 I would love you to tell me about your essential tools for quilting (or sewing or knitting) - especially the ones which prevent family discord. Next time I will give you a hint about the non-violent use of seam rippers, so watch this space.


Vintage Sheet Addict said...

These are just the kind of tips I need being a novice! Thought it was just me who enjoyed pressing just sewn seams! Glad I'm not the only one who's bonkers! Ada :)

Chey said...

Thank you for the great quilting tips - as with many projects I do not have a space to leave it all laying out. My one and only quilt project got as far as buying the fabric and picking a pattern. I am hoping for better luck next time. Chey x

andrea creates said...

great tip.can't wait to see when you get a chance to photograph it :)
take care~

greenrabbitdesigns said...

Congrats on the gym activity, I am impressed!!!
Looking forward to the quilt reveal. :)
Vivienne x

Katy Cameron said...

I use clips too, but mine are less colourful due to where I, err, acquired them *cough* office stationary cupboard *cough*

Hen said...

Your quilt blocks look yummy. I too use post- it notes, pinned on to mark the top of each row. Once I've laid the blocks out into a quilt top, I take a photo of it and have this on my monitor screen next to me whilst I sew the top together to make sure I'm doing so in the correct order. Pressing and steam, oh yes lots of it but not on blocks which are likely to distort, eg. Triangles. Loads of other tips, practice makes perfect as they say!
Hen x
P.s. do you arrange your blocks on a flannel sheet, they will sort of stick to it which is useful.

Mrs. Micawber said...

I am envious of your skill with the bulldog clips. Even when I pile the pieces in order, my (supposedly efficient) chain-piecing procedure tends to mess them all up again.

Fingernails and thighs (dear me, that sounds rather dreadful) are invaluable quilting tools, allowing one to gently pre-press seams without leaving one's chair. (The fingernail is the iron, the upper thigh the board.)

Your quilt looks very cheerful! I like the combination of prints.

P.S. Re seam rippers - I keep mine attached to the front of my sewing machine by means of sticky-backed velcro tape (fuzzy bit on the ripper, hooky bit on the machine).

menopausalmusing said...

Lovely colours in the quilt and great tips...... I hadn't realised that you aren't supposed to steam the seams. I am thinking it is almost worth taking up quilting in order to buy some brightly coloured bulldog clips!

ted and bunny said...

I'm afraid my only essential tool is I sit and undo hours of work because I've either misread the pattern (too vain to wear my specs) made a hideous error (too lazy to wear my specs) or measured the wrong size (couldn't find my specs).
But have to confess unpicking is a very theraputic pastime...

Annie @ knitsofacto said...

I sold my essential quilting tool, my beautiful top of the range Bernina, because it was gathering dust and I needed the dosh. Sad but necessary.

Essential knitting tool? Tiny little double pointed sock needles. And I don't knit socks! They do however make wonderful substitute pins/cable needles/wheedler openers of too tight stitches, and much more besides.

The Coffee Lady said...

I never realised until I started quilting this summer quite what an admin-heavy hobby it was. There was no need to be so organised with dressmaking.

Jo said...

Great tips. I love the fabric you're using, can't wait to see the finished quilt.

Gillian said...

Ah-ha, so it's the lack of bulldog clips that caused all the errors in my first (and only) quilt!! Not my complete incompetence in quilting! Thanks for these tips - I read them greedily, and look forward to part 2, as I hope to pluck up the courage to make another quilt in 2013.

Sharon Souter said...

Hi Pomona - thank's for the mention - that is very sweet of you. Great tips on your post too! x


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