Category Archives: Tools

How to make a mini design board

You may have noticed that I recently started displaying blocks in this nifty blue frame.

Framed checker block

Framed checker block

My sewing studio has pretty appalling lighting and my large design wall, which is just a big piece of flannel, is tacked onto a wall that has no useful light on it. I wanted to be able to show what I’m working on in better lighting, and the only spot in the room that has any kind of natural light (also somewhat limited by our neighbour’s house) is right by the glass door to the garden.

I bought this frame at TK Maxx right after I moved to England in 2010. I planned to use it to hang jewelry, which as it turns out, I never wear, so I never quite got around to it. The frame followed me from England to Germany and I’ve spent most of the past three years trying to keep it out of my way.

The other day I was at the art store picking up some pens (I’ve been doodling a lot the last couple of years, more on that in another post) and the end display had gorgeous pastel spray-paint cans. A light bulb went off in my head and I picked up a lovely light blue.

A quick spray

A quick spray

This was a fast-drying paint, so I painted a couple of layers within the span of an hour and was good to go! Next, I cut a piece of old batting to size and clipped it into place, and trimmed the excess. A couple of nails in the wall, and now I’ve got a changing and useful piece of art.

Kiwi gives her paw of approval

Kiwi gives her paw of approval

What kind of challenges does your sewing room present to you? Tell me about it!

July Quilt Block for Stash Bee

This was a fun one! Although I’m loathe to admit it, this solids thing isn’t the absolute worst.

To put this block together, you cut seventeen 4.5″ squares in a range of white-grey-black and one 4.5″ square in a bright colour. Toss them all in a paper bag and randomly pull a pair and make an HST (line down the diagonal, sew 1/4″ on either side, cut, trim to 3.5″). Once all the squares have been turned into HSTs, set aside one of the coloured HSTs and another random one (they’re extras) and put the whole lot back in the bag. Pull a pair of HSTs out, sew it randomly together, and so on and so on, until you have a 4×4 block.

Random HSTs

Random HSTs

Kiwi says Hi!

Hi!

Hi!

I’ll talk a bit more about the frame in another post.

My New Custom Sewing Table

So posting in these parts has been sporadic at best, but don’t you think I’ve been sitting on my laurels. Stuff has been getting done here, you hear?!

Have I ever mentioned that I have a carpenter? I do. He’s done a lot of work on a house we have up north and has become a good friend, so it only seemed fitting that I’d impose with a request for a sewing table, no? Yes.

At the tail end of last year I sketched an embarrassingly unskilled sketch of what I had in mind, and sent Mario a shitty picture of this shitty sketch on whatsApp, and then the Germ tried to explain to him auf Deutsch what the bizarre assortment of lines was supposed to represent.

If you thought I was joking, you grossly overestimate me.

If you thought I was joking, you grossly overestimate me.

In February when we were up north for a visit I took my machine in for measurements and a slightly more refined plan was hatched. In April, Mario arrived with his tools and a massive work surface, and he and the Germ got to work assembling it. I watched from the cat tree, in awe.

Faces hidden to protect t he innocent.

Faces hidden to protect the innocent.

The cats, having been displaced, hopped onto the pieces for a nap.

What?

What are you lookin’ at?

And soon enough, I had this:

Magic, is it not?!

Magic, is it not?!

The table is about three meters long and a meter wide, with a drop-down slot for the machine. The back has another half-meter extension, making for a huge table on which I can fairly easily lay out a large quilt for quilting.

Magic!

Magic!

The whole thing is on wheels (except the extension legs, which fold up when not in use, so I can move the table to the middle of the room if I want to, like I did when a couple of friends came over to sew with me a while back.

When I don’t have a huge quilt on it, there is enough space for my large cutting mat and for a squillion other things that can rest to the right of the machine without interfering with any sewing. I usually have my ironing board to my right at table height so I don’t have to keep getting up to “press” (let’s all pretend that I don’t iron).

So sounds great, right? It is, but… There are a couple of issued with it that need to be tweaked that I hadn’t anticipated.

The first is that my sewing machine has a slightly curved surface, which means that it isn’t flush with the table. This means that when I’m piecing, the pieces sometimes get scrunched up in the gap between the surfaces. This could probably be fixed with a customized Perspex surface, or I could try placing the surface of my old Janome extension table on top of the table in that spot for a slightly raised, but smooth surface. I’ll need to find a way to affix it to the table to prevent it from sliding. At the moment this isn’t bothering me enough to worry about it.

The second is that it turns out that the extension is a bit too heavy for the back wheels to support, so they bent, making it difficult to wheel the table around. I’ve removed them and my carpenter will reassess what we can do about it.

What does your sewing surface look like? Would you invest in a custom piece?

Upgrade!

I’m almost done talking about Loulouthi Tiles, I promise.

I was dreading quilting this quilt, and for good reason. I finished quilting it a week ago Sunday, it’s now the following Monday, and I’m only now able to fully bend the fingers on my right hand. That bizarre cut I have across the bed of my index finger nail is not going anywhere, either, and it really hurts.

I bought my sewing machine a few months after I learned to sew. I was waiting to see whether this sewing thing would stick, since I tend to get quickly obsessive about new things and then equally quickly drop them. At the time, I hadn’t started quilting and my two main issues with sewing were being able to sew in a straight line and being able to control the machine’s speed. The hand-me-down Singer (514) I had at the time was so powerful that I felt it controlled me instead of the other way around. So when it came time to look for a machine,  the only feature I cared about was that the machine had speed control.

I had gone to John Lewis to have a look at their machines and settled on the JL250, a branded machine made by Janome. It had speed control and I could sort of afford it (I had been out of work for about a year at this point because of my visa troubles and had only just gotten a job, so there wasn’t an awful lot of money in the pot). It was absolutely great and I was really pleased with it.

Then I made The Quilt That Ate Berlin.

The Quilt That Ate Berlin

The Quilt That Ate Berlin

And another friend’s wedding quilt.

Wedding quilt

Wedding quilt

And our Dreamweaver quilt.

Dreamweaver

Dreamweaver

And my niece’s Mixtape quilt (my first and only FMQed quilt).

Mixtape quilt

Mixtape quilt

Well. The machine has turned out to be a complete nightmare. While it’s fine for piecing and doing any number of things, it is a disaster for quilting. It has a 6” throat space, no automatic thread cutter, no needle up-down control. You know what it does have? Speed control, which after two years of sewing is a feature I can now only scoff at.

So I obviously had to do something. On Saturday at the Harrogate show I went to the Janome dealer and had a go at the Horizon Memory Craft 8900. It. was. gorgeous. But it was also £1500 (after a £500 show discount!) and I’d just quit my job (I QUIT MY JOB!)(Eeeeee!). The saleswoman also pointed at the MC8200, which is very similar, but comes with fewer stitch designs (275 instead of 900) and no extension table or hard case. It was selling for £1000. Let me tell you, with every shove of that quilt through my John Lewis machine on Sunday, that £1000 price tag was looking more and more reasonable. I hemmed and hawed for about TWO MINUTES before ringing the dealer first thing on Monday morning and ordering the MC8200. I plopped down an extra £70 for the extension table, too.

You guys? THIS MACHINE IS A DREAM! It has an 11” throat space. I could fit my head in there if I wanted! It also has all the requisites for quilting: needle up-down, thread cutter, stitch reinforcer, a stop-start button, a knee-lift (haven’t attached this yet), an extra lift of the presser foot so you can fit really bulky quilts under it. I haven’t even looked at the stitch options, though admittedly, of the thirty six stitch options on my John Lewis machine I use precisely four (standard, needle to the left, needle to the right, zig-zag stitch), so I’m not entirely sure all those stitches will make much of a difference. They’re about as important to me as speed control at this stage.

It arrived last Wednesday and by the end of that day I managed to bind the Loulouthi Tiles quilt (fully by machine–needle up down IS A REVELATION, PEOPLE!) and sew five more Tula Pink City Sampler blocks. I also made the new block I hinted at in my lat post, and I then had a quick go at FMQ and OH MY GOD it is amazing. AMAZING!

Janome Memory Craft 8200

Janome Memory Craft 8200

So yeah, I’m a little excited! And a lot broke, but way more excited than broke!

Pressing Matters

I went to another quilt show on Saturday. I spent money. A lot of money. Money I don’t so much have right now because I’ve just quit my job (I QUIT MY JOB! THE ANGELS REJOICED!). Let’s not talk about that right now, mmmkay?

On Sunday I spent the entire day quilting the Loulouthi Tiles quilt. I have a bruised finger and an oddly cracked nail to prove it. The quilting is done, and I’m mostly quite pleased with how it’s turned out, but the whole process has reaffirmed that my least favourite part of quilting is the quilting. I still have to bind it but I was too drained to do it on Sunday night and didn’t really feel like taking out my ironing board to get the binding fabric ready, so it’ll wait for some time this week and I’ll probably finish it off next weekend.

Hey, speaking of ironing boards, this is mine:

Delightful.

Delightful.

I know, right? Can you blame me for not wanting to take it out to get the binding fabric ready? I bought it (along with my not-so-fantastic iron) when I first started sewing, at some discount store that has since gone out of business. Probably because it sold crap.

While I was at the show on Saturday, I found this fabric (I know I said I wouldn’t talk about it just now, but this is my blog, mmmkay?) and immediately knew what I would make with it.

So stinkin' cute!

So stinkin’ cute!

It’s from the Wash Day line for Makower and hi! It’s flippin’ adorable!

I didn’t follow a specific pattern to make this, but loosely followed a few of the tutorials online. I had three quarter-yards; two with the polka dot irons and one of the washing line. The iron fabric pieces were just a smidge narrow to do the job, so I pieced those together, and then added the washing line fabric to the bottom.

Fabric_Sewn

I then sewed a casing along the edges and pulled sewing elastic through it using a safety pin. I placed the whole thing right over the existing cover, which was a single piece with elasticated edges, rather than making a new lining as well. I stretched it out until it was smooth and then knotted the elastic.

This almost makes me want to iron my clothes! (But not really.)

This almost makes me want to iron my clothes! (But not really.)

I absolutely love it. The whole thing took less than an hour and it upgraded my sewing corner by about a squillion percent.

I also worked on another fun little something last night, but I’ll write a separate post about it when I get a bit more of it done.

Sneak peak