Wednesday, March 7, 2012

playing catch up

"Economy," block #29, redone. My current favorite!

I'm playing catch up with the rest of my Farmer's Wife blocks this week, and I'm so close to being all caught up I can taste it! Or maybe that’s just delusion, caused by lack of sleep. Playing catch up comes with a price, one that I forget every time I stay up late sewing. I don’t know what it is about the quiet of night that makes me feel like I’m in my zone. But once the world is sleeping I just go, go, go. I think, too, if it didn’t take me so long to ‘set up’—gather all my supplies, try to make room for a pressing board and a cutting mat and my machine—I might be able to do more without dipping into sleeping time.

"Friendship," the original first block #39, redone.
In any case, I’ve redone 12 of my blocks now (and apparently I threw some new ones in there, too!) and I am so. thrilled. that they are finally coming out 6.5” square, as intended. I’m also really enjoying getting to re-match some of my fabrics, and I love how they all look together. I find myself stacking them up neatly one minute, then paging through them all to admire my work, then stacking them neatly again.

Neatly stacked.

A few things I’ve realized in making a bunch of blocks in succession that I might not have realized if I’d continued to do them one by one: starch before you cut and sew. I had been using spray starch to get a good finished look, but in one of the blocks I completed on my way to the right size, the final block was not square and had to be cut down even further. Because most vintage sheets are not 100% cotton but a 50%/50% cotton poly blend, there is a lot of risk of pulling and general wonkiness.  Starching before cutting helps keep the shape while sewing, especially for all those little pieces. I am sure this is going to help me out when Leslie and I get to the blocks with super tiny pieces.

Another word on starching. I began using spray starch in the can, like you buy at Target. But Monday night I ran out of that stuff around 11pm and Mark looked at me like I was crazy when I voiced the temptation to run out to Safeway to buy more. So I checked myself, then did a quick little search to see if there was a DIY approach—and there was! I had no idea that it was so easy (not to mention way more green) to make your own spray starch. You need only a spray bottle, water, and cornstarch- who knew? I also added a drop of peppermint oil, which we only had because we make our own laundry detergent. Works like a charm, I don’t have to worry about recycling the can, and bonus: I get to smell peppermint as I iron.

Handmade spray starch!

The method I chose for cutting out my pieces (because I wanted them to be perfect—even though, of course, they were not) was to iron on a freezer paper template, then to rotary cut with a ruler around the template. I’m glad I worked my way out of that craziness. When I re-printed all of my templates, I just wanted to go and I didn’t want to cut them all out with the rotary cutter and ruler. Halfway through cutting with scissors I realized that I’m pretty good at cutting a straight line. Now, some of the blocks, that require so. many. duplicate pieces are still best cut out with a rotary cutter and ruler, cause you can stack ‘em and do many at once. But the patterns that don’t require multiple pieces, and the ones that are really small I now iron on (after I starch!) and cut by hand. That has definitely sped up the process.

“Checkerboard,” block #19, redone. This is one for the rotary cutter, folks.

The quarter/eighths foot has also helped. The ¼” quilting foot with the guide was allowing a much larger than ¼” edge. Not sure why. Maybe I bent the guide somehow? I love that foot for projects where the size of the seam doesn’t matter, like a cloth napkin. It just helps guide me to sew cleaner and faster than a regular foot. But the quarter/eighths foot is perfect for my Farmer’s Wife blocks. I love that I’m getting to know my sewing machine and its attachments better as a result of this project! (Would you believe last night I also checked the manual on how to wind the bobbin, too, just in case my tension issues were related to a wonkily-wound bobbin? Luckily I have been doing that right…)

"Broken Dishes," block #11, redone.
"Friendship Star," block #41, redone.

I’m sure that I’ll continue to learn as a result of this project and I’m glad that the end is nowhere in sight (though that WILL be an exciting day, when all 111 blocks are done)! Mostly, I’m just loving that I finally get to make. It reminds me that creating fulfills me in a way that I’m not sure other things can. Putting thought into creating something helps me understand how things work and value craftsmanship on a general level. It helps me to appreciate things that I might otherwise take for granted. Have you ever considered something as regular as pair of blue jeans? There is so much that has to be done to get a pair of jeans sewn right. I know I’m not at that skill level. But when I sew, I remember that every stitch counts towards the completion of the project. Each seam has to be considered, even to the point that you make a decision of which way to iron them. All the tiny decisions that go into the final product have an eventual effect—and they pile up. Suddenly, a pair of blue jeans is more than just something comfortable to clothe your body—they are a work of art. Blue jeans!

"Windmill," block #108, redone.
"Box," block #9
"Snowball," block #81, redone many times. This was the block I finally decided I was going to sew until it was the right size!

This line of thought always gets me contemplating God’s creation and how creating is an integral part of my happiness. Makes me think of inheriting my father’s eyes or my mother’s common sense. I wonder if the original Farmer’s Wives contemplated things like this when they sewed on the farm back in the day?

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