Progress, and not so much progress

My plan to use spare half hours to sew failed the moment the really cold weather set in, because I’d forgotten just how cold the study can get in winter (for some reason to do with the way the hallway bends just before the door to the study, the warmth from the fire, which happily heats the rest of the house, never quite reaches the study).  So dragging myself away from my comfy chair in front of the fire into the inadequately heated by a small fan heater study was a struggle – one which the warm and comfy chair usually won.

I also haven’t been feeling all that creative anyway – we’re still attempting to recruit new staff at work (I won’t go into the details of why the process is dragging on so long, because it reflects badly on the professionalism of people in certain parts of the organisation, but let’s just say there have been some unnecessary delays), so I’m still trying to juggle the work of three people on my own – thankfully everyone else involved in the projects I’m working on has been very understanding that I can’t do everything at once (and in some cases have just had to put projects on hold for a while), but it’s still pretty stressful and exhausting keeping everything going, so I’ve been pretty much feeling like crashing when I get home (not helped by being out being social three nights out of four last week!).  I am so looking forward to getting some new staff!!!

Anyway, as a result I haven’t got very far on sewing all those nine-patches together (also, sewing them together is a very slow process, because there are SO MANY seams to match!  I really didn’t think about that when I was designing the quilt!).  But I’ve got a few rows sewn together at least:

And I have made good use of sitting in front of the fire time to put the binding on the jelly roll race quilt. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out:

My quilting is still a long way from perfect, but it’s definitely improving, and basting it on the kitchen table definitely worked, because there’s no stray tucks or pleats in the fabric on the back.

The being super-social last week was probably a bad idea, considering how tired I was, but it was fun.  On Tuesday night I was the Toastmaster (ie Chair) for our Toastmasters meeting, which not only involves a lot of work during the meeting introducing speakers and keeping the meeting running to time, but also meant I spent most of the weekend emailing back and forth with people making sure that all the speaking roles were filled, and finding replacements for last minute apologies.  The meeting went really well though, and finished almost exactly on time, so I was happy with my efforts.

Then on Wednesday night there was a quiz night for the College.  Seeing as we didn’t have enough staff to put together a team from the Lab, I joined my former colleagues from English, and despite a not great start (and the fact that the quiz was one of those franchised ones that are never as good as when the organisers just put the questions together themselves – very heavily skewed towards rugby and pop culture, and of course never any science questions, which incites me to rant about the state of society and why are people so scared of science…) we somehow ended up winning.  Despite my reservations about the quiz format, it was a lot of fun. It definitely helped that nobody was taking the quiz too seriously (first prize was a “gold” cup from the $2 shop, and some coffee vouchers for one of the campus cafes, so it wasn’t exactly high stakes :-) ), so there was much silliness going on, and attempts to bribe the judges, and much friendly rivalry going on between our table and the History department table next to us (they came second in the end).

Then on Thursday night I went to the crafting meetup group, which I probably should have skipped seeing as it was the third night in a row I was out late, but I hadn’t been able to make it for a few weeks so thought I really should go along.  It was over in Linwood, which is always a pain to get to (especially as they’d had some sort of power outage or something at the bus exchange, so the real time arrivals system was down and you just had to guess when your bus would show up and at what end of the bus exchange), but I made it over there eventually, and did actually have a nice evening.  Luckily someone offered me a lift home, so at least I didn’t have to battle the bus exchange chaos again getting home, but I think I might skip the meetups on that side of town for a while, at least until the evenings get lighter again so that I can just catch a bus that takes me in vaguely the right direction and then walk, rather than having to find the combination of buses that will take me close enough to not have to walk too far in the dark.

Anyway, talking of walking, it is actually a nice day today, so I think I will abandon my computer now and go for a nice walk and enjoy the sunshine for a while.  The way the weather had been lately, it could be weeks before I see the sun again!

Quilts in progress report

(With apologies for the terrible photographs – I keep forgetting that the lighting in the study in winter isn’t particularly conducive to getting colour-accurate photos.  On the plus side, I have managed to reinstall decent photo-editing software, so at least I could crop and resize them without too much pain…)

The jelly roll race quilt is quilted! Although the quilting doesn’t actually show up all that well in the photo. It looks pretty good in person though. So all I need to do is the binding, and it’ll be finished.

It’s the first biggish quilt I’ve quilted on my new table, and it’s definitely a lot easier moving a big quilt around on the machine when everything’s at the same level. Of course, because nothing is ever simple in my life, I’ve now run into a problem with the thread shredding when I quilt in a particular direction, which I’ve read can either be a sign there’s damage to the throat plate or the bobbin holder of my machine, or it can just be caused by using the wrong size needle. I really really hope it’s just the needle – if not, the sewing machine might be taking another trip back to the repair shop… (or I could just never quilt anything in that direction – might make curves a bit tricky, of course)

I also finished putting together the top for the Three Dudes quilt. Well, sort of finished it – I can’t decide whether I want to add a border to it or not. It looks a bit unfinished without a border, but if I do put a border on, I’m not sure what fabric to use (ideally, I’d use one of the fabrics in the quilt, but I can’t find anyone in NZ selling that fabric line, and the postage for buying it from overseas would be ridiculous). This is the disadvantage of using precuts for a quilt – if you add in some random other fabric that’s not from that fabric line, it’s really obvious.

This has been a really complainy sort of blog post, hasn’t it?

Productivity

It’s been a busy but very productive weekend.  The first thing I achieved was yesterday morning, when I got a load of firewood delivered, and managed to get it stacked into the garage in record time.  That hadn’t been the plan, because I was supposed to be going to Mr Harvestbird’s birthday party, but when I rang the firewood company earlier in the week to place the order, they had a cancellation that meant they could deliver yesterday instead of me having to wait for weeks, so I said yes, thinking I could leave it to stack today.  But then the forecast was for rain all weekend, so I had to get it stacked inside straight away before it got too wet.  I was pretty impressed with myself that I managed to get the whole load stacked in just a couple of hours, even if it did mean I was a bit late for the party by the time I’d finished and had a shower.

The party was fun – as always is the case at the Harvestbirds’ parties, a real mixture of different types of people (accompanied by what seemed to be hordes of small children) , with pass the parcel and bubble machines (I want one!) for the children, playstation for the teens, and fancy cocktails for the adults.

This morning I scrubbed down the kitchen table so I could try table-basting my Jelly Roll Race quilt.  It worked really well, and was so much easier than trying to do it on the floor like I have with other quilts, because you’re not having to crawl all over the quilt, wrinkling it up as fast as you’re smoothing it out.  You don’t even need a massive table for it, because you work in sections, smoothing the layers out and securing them with clips before pinning them together, then you unclip it and move to the next section.  I even found a great tip (which of course I forgot to save the link to, so I can’t give credit for it) for making sure the various layers are centred on each other properly:  you tape a couple of skewers to the centre of the table before you start, then you can feel them through the fabric as you add each layer of fabric and batting, so that you can make sure all the centres end up in the same place.

Lots of photos of the process:

I didn’t start the actual quilting, because I wanted to continue working on the blocks for the Three Dudes quilt, but it’s all basted now and ready to go when I feel inspired to get back to some free-motion quilting.

Talking of the Three Dudes quilt, that’s what I spent the rest of the afternoon working on. I managed to get all the strip sets sewn together, and then cut the strips up into 10.5 inch lengths so that they’re square. That’s not the final block though – next step is to sew them back together (in a different way, of course!), and then cut them again, and then sew them again… and after all that they should come out looking really interesting. But that’s a job for another productive weekend.

1 hour and 49 minutes

Didn’t manage to get it done in the promised under an hour (it was actually closer to two), but I did get it done.

Most of that time was taken sewing the first very long seam (when you fold the super-long strip in half and sew down the entire length), and in untangling the knots it kept trying to tie itself into, but each subsequent seam got faster – both because they halve in length each time, and because the strips are getting wider so more manageable.

It’s definitely not a design for a control freak – once you start sewing you’ve got no control on where the different strips end up (though with a bit of calculation you could probably predict what would end up where, and plan the order of the strips accordingly), so sometimes you end up with the same or very similar fabrics next to each other, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  But that’s the point – it’s supposed to end up looking totally random.

There is some order in the chaos, though.  Because I used a jelly roll, all the strips were the same length, which meant my connecting triangles ended up in clusters.  I think if I made another one, I’d deliberately cut the strips different lengths, just to see what happened.

The red triangles don’t pop as much as I’d hoped, but that might just be the terrible lighting – it’s been a dark, rainy day today, so it was very dull when I took the photo. They’ll probably look different on a brighter day.

So now I’ve just got to quilt it…

Preparing to race

While I was working on my thesis last year, with no real free time to do anything properly crafty, I kept myself sane by channelling my creative urges into watching quilting tutorials on YouTube and keeping a notebook of all the ideas I wanted to try out one day.  And, when that wasn’t enough, by buying fabric, as a kind of promise to myself that I really would get to the end of my thesis, and be able to make all the things.

Mostly the fabric I bought was from the on-line retailer equivalent of remnant bins: “grab bags” of assorted off-cuts – a great way to build a stash of fabric, but with no pretence of being a curated collection.  Which is cool, because quilting comes from a tradition of using scraps, and I love the way disparate scraps can come together to make something beautiful.  And it’s fun having a random collection of fabric and picking and choosing from it until you get a set of fabrics that work well together.

Most of the tutorials I watched online, though, have a different approach to fabric – they mostly rely heavily on pre-cuts – a set of fabric pieces cut from a single designer’s line of fabrics, so that every piece is guaranteed to go with every other piece.  Pre-cuts come in a few different sizes which represent commonly-used pieces used in making quilt blocks – there’s jelly rolls, which are 2.5 inch wide strips, layer cakes, which are 10 inch squares, and charm packs, which are 5 inch squares.  Normally you get one or two pieces of each fabric design from the line in each pre-cut set.

Pre-cuts do make for beautiful quilts, but they’re also expensive.  Much more expensive than just buying scraps.  But a couple of months ago, I stumbled across a fabric shop in Australia that was having a clearance sale, and had reduced some of their pre-cuts cheap enough (even allowing for the shipping to NZ) that I decided it was worth buying a few, just so I could try out some of the ideas I’d seen.  Of course, being a clearance sale, the selection wasn’t great, but I managed to find two jelly rolls and three layer cakes that looked like they might have potential.

They’ve been sitting in my fabric stash since then, and I’ve been itching to play with them.  Today the temptation got too much, so I decided to use one of the jelly rolls to make a “jelly roll race” quilt.  It’s a quilt design that’s all over the internet, because it supposedly lets you sew a whole quilt top in under an hour (although really, it takes most people a couple of hours in total, because there’s a bit of prep work involved before you get to the actual “race” bit).

I decided to go a little bit fancier than the standard jelly roll race, which normally just involves sewing all the strips end to end, and then sewing the resulting giant strip together until it turns into a quilt.  I thought the fabrics in my jelly roll were a bit too dull, so I decided I wanted to brighten them up by adding pops of bright red throughout the quilt.  That meant my prep work ended up taking a few hours, because I decided I wanted red triangles – little squares would have been faster, but I thought triangles would look more dynamic (which seems fitting for a race quilt :-) ).

I didn’t get as far as the actual race part today, but I did get my giant strip all prepped, complete with red triangles, so tomorrow I’ll be able to see if it really does go together in under an hour.  At the moment it just looks like a giant tangle of fabric, but hopefully by this time tomorrow I’ll have a quilt top to show you.