A tricky Farmer’s Wife block (7 of 9)

This one took a lot of lining up! It’s similar to the first block I did, but the component parts are orientated differently and there is a cross in the middle. I thought about reversing the colours, but decided against it. I drew around the templates onto the back of the fabric, rather than using paper piecing as I tried in the first block, and found that easier but still time-consuming. For all I’d wanted to finish it by the end of the weekend, I didn’t quite manage it.

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On Friday night I laid out the six blocks I’d finished at that point onto various backgrounds to emulate the sashing I’ll do: first the plain burgundy I’d visualised, but it looked gloomy and the pattern burgundy fabric vanished into it. A few patterned ones followed, but in the end the plain blue was definitely best.

Having sewed the two sets of chevrons together, with the two horizontal arms of the cross, I then had to sew the two completed parts onto the vertical part of the cross. Below is my first attempt, which didn’t turn out as I hoped. One side took a few shots to get the points done accurately, but only when I’d ironed it did I see that the two horizontal parts of the cross didn’t line up with each other. I wanted to make this the central block, so didn’t want to leave it as it was.

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In order to line them up, I made pencil marks at the relevant spots on the back of the vertical part of the cross. It was easier said than done, but the end result is better than the first attempt.

I’ve a feeling the points at the edge of the finished block might not line up with the sashing too well, but there isn’t much I can do about it. When I’ve finished the last two blocks and made the final decision on block placement, I’ll start the sashing and then we’ll see.

Another two Farmer’s Wife blocks (6 down, 3 to go)

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I’m pleased with these latest blocks. The first one was surprisingly easy though I did a few bits of unpicking and resewing where the white points meet the other pieces, because if even a millimetre or so off they scream for attention because the contrast between colours is so great. On the second one, I tried using templates for two of the burgundy / blue half-square triangles but it was so time-consuming and I thought the end result no better than the other method I use, so went back to that with some relief. These 6-inch blocks are so fiddly! I measured the template for the squares on the second block before I started, so I would get the measurements for the half-square triangles right – after sewing together, each little square measures 1 1/8 inch! I’m not sure I could do any of the blocks that consist of more than 5 squares in a row, so am not even going to try.

I now come to deciding on the colours for the last three blocks. The fabric with the off-white fabric looks brighter than I thought, I hadn’t meant for it to be such a feature. I was going to leave it at three blocks with white in, on one each row, but it looks peculiar because there are always two touching each other at a diagonal with the other out on its own somewhere, so when ‘tother half suggested making four or five and arranging them in a cross shape, either with one either at the centre of each edge (as above if you imagine a matching bottom row), or one as the centre block and one at each corner, I agreed with him… well I have to occasionally, but wouldn’t want to make a habit of it! I need one more block that’s just the tan colour and the burgundy, or the one currently at the top left will look lonely, and then either one or two with off-white, and maybe just one with blue (so either in combination with the off-white, or one of each). I think the sashing should be the plain burgundy, which I’ve only used in one block, the first I made, though of course it means the one with the burgundy flower background will disappear into it. Then I’ll make the back either plain blue, or plain blue with a pattern of some of the cast-off half-square triangles incorporated into it.

All these decisions! It could be a painful weekend. I must get at least one block finished by the end of it if I’m to stand a chance of getting the whole cushion made before going home towards the end of April and handing it over to its intended recipient. I was going to say that if I felt confident about machine-sewing the quilting it would be quicker, but given that I end up pulling out the stitching and redoing sections by hand, maybe not! At least there is the Easter Bank Holiday weekend in a fortnight, though that tends to disappear without trace in the flicker of an eyelid… anyway, mustn’t think that far ahead and wish my life away, some of these blocks have worked better than I thought and I’ve enjoyed them, so will look forward to the next one. Cheerio!

3 more Farmer’s Wife blocks

After finding the results of my attempts at paper piecing to be ‘not that great’, I decided to make my next block the one on the top right, which I could make without paper piecing. I measured the template for the central square then made the rectangles and half-square triangles in the method I’m used to (the triangles by pinning two squares back to back and stitching two parallel diagonal lines, a 1/4 inch either side of a line drawn corner-to-corner across the square, then cutting along the line and unfolding the resulting two half-square triangles). The plain blue picks out the flowers in the burgundy nicely.

So buoyed was I by the success of this that I tried to make the next block, the one on the top right which is composed entirely of half-square triangles, the same way. Boy, oh boy! First I got the measurements wrong and calculated them as for a 6 inch square after it’s been sewn to the other blocks, i.e. 6 1/2 inches. I only realised after I’d made all the squares and sewn two rows together! I toyed with trimming them down, but that would cut through the stitches. Then, unbelievably, I got the next lot of calculations wrong and ended up making them for what would have turned out to be a 5 1/2 inch square. I am now the proud owner of a whole lot of half square triangles with nowhere to go. Then when I finally got the size of component parts right, the first row I made was still a bit too long, i.e. long enough that a bit of manipulation wouldn’t cure it. I decided this was drawing along the quilter’s quarter with lines that were too thick, so took them apart, bought a mechanical / propelling pencil with 2B leads, and redrew the lines. Eventually, it’s the right size, and looks fine when you stand back and see it from a distance, but at close range it’s clear the squares are wonky. Yikes. Lisa Bongean’s blog tip to use starch helped, but I reckon using my usual method to make half-square triangles just isn’t go to work with such tiny pieces. (P.S. the photo’s a bit dark, the blue’s the same one shown in the photos of the other blocks).

For the last one, I made the inner square and rectangle without making templates, but for the trapeziums I traced the templates onto plastic, tracing round the inside part of the template provided on the CD accompanying the book I’m using. I was confused what to do about the border, so decided that I’d trace the inner part of the template onto plastic, use the new plastic template to draw round onto the fabric, then the quilter’s quarter for the border. Using my new propelling pencil! Also using starch. I was uncertain at first, just following the advice in Lisa Clement’s book to start with the points where the lines meet (once I found this advice, which I missed first time round because I was looking in the section on templates), and afterwards realising I need an extra stitch either side of the line so the borders are sewn down. I had to go back and do these stitches, but apart from that it came together better than I thought, and much more quickly. Admittedly, they’re bigger pieces, but it was so much easier than the last one, I started it on Sunday afternoon and had finished by the time I got off the train after work on Monday, apart from the last iron down. This was aided by taking my new craft mini iron to work, so that when I got to my office at 8.40, and using a folded up teatowel as an ironing surface, I could iron in place the pieces I’d done on the commute in before starting work at 9, ready to take up again on the commute out! Fortunately, I have an office to myself and no one came to see me, but I won’t be making a habit of it. But wasting the best part of 2 weeks on 2 abortive attempts to make a 6 inch block out of half-square triangles will lead to desperation. Patchwork messes with your mind!

Two new autumn blocks

Trying to get back into the groove with my autumn quilt, I’m pleased to have finished two new blocks. The first I started in November before my ‘much less orange’ rule (downgraded from ‘no orange’ on realising it’s virtually impossible with autumn fabrics) but it got put to one side while I finished Christmas projects. The second comes after reviewing the whole quilt.

I put in an earlier post that I’d laid out everything so far and photographed it, and decided there was too much orange. I put it on my screensaver on my work computer and occasionally stared at it and picked out a couple of blocks that the quilt would be improved by not having. On a slightly depressing weekend, because it involved thinking and no productivity, I took these out, pinned together some of the best ones, and hung them from the wardrobe so I could stare at it and decide what blocks would improve it.

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Of the ones not included, some may go back in, but others I want to take apart and see if I can do anything with the pieces. Quite disappointing, but it’s called learning the hard way!

Farmer’s Wife cushion cover- block 1 (yikes!)

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Block number 1, labour of love and hair loss (due to tearing it out), so I’ll see how block 2 goes as to whether it’s worth keeping going!

Having received a Farmer’s Wife book for Christmas, I decided to make blocks from it for the cushion cover I wanted to make for my brother, to replace the Christmas one I’d made him while it’s stored away as a Christmas decoration. The book comes with a CD of templates which I dithered about what to do with… I’m still not sure from the books I’ve looked at if it’s possible to sew these shapes together without using paper piecing, so thought that was the method I should try. However, my attempts at making paper pieced hexagons ages ago had gone awry and have pretty much been abandoned, so I knew this would be difficult. Anyway, I chose fabric from my stash, including from a January sales spending spree (!) and some designs from the book, with the intention of trying one to see how it goes.

This is the long list of possible fabrics, from which I quickly chose the three in the picture. I’d like to use the plain blue because it picks up the blue flowers in the piece with the burgundy background (and it’s for a boy, to stereotype!), and then I think one other lighter one.

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When I drew up a short list of blocks from the book I found it easier to draw the outlines of them on graph paper, so I could see clearly what they are without the patterns of the fabrics used in the book distracting me, and without having to flip back and forwards through the book.

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(Designs from Laurie Aaron Hird, ‘The Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt’ (2009) )

I chose to do this one first because it seemed to me a striking design and could be my lead piece, as it were, around which the colour choices for the others could be based.

I’ve taken the paper out of the middle pieces,  because throughout I was worried I was sewing through the paper and was keen to see if I had or not, and wanted to see at least part of it without the tacking stitches, but thought I should leave them in the pieces at the outer edges for when I come to sew them onto the sashing. I’m pleased with the colour choices, being now sensitive to colour choices due to the mess of the autumn quilt. On the whole it’s not bad, but the result is not so neat as I’d like, particularly the very centre point where the four points of the parallelograms meet, and the top plain burgundy one of the four looks like the point is blunt. I found it very difficult to do the whip stitches evenly and they are quite messy.

The blocks are meant to be 6 inches square when finished, and it’s a 20 inch square cushion pad, so I was thinking 6×3 = 18, so 9 blocks with an inch-wide border would do it. I’ve only chosen 7 blocks and will either repeat 2 of them or choose two more. I don’t like the bears claws designs or the ones with a shopping basket or maple leaf so much, and there are some I don’t think I could do yet (or indeed ever), despite liking them, namely the stars and mariner’s compasses. I may change the first one in the picture for one where instead of a square in the middle, it’s orientated as a diamond. For some reason I hadn’t taken into account that as the designs go right up to the edges they need sashing, so now realise I’ll have to have a very thin sashing and border to make it fit a 20 inch cushion pard, rats! That’s if I actually get to the stage where they’re good enough to be made into a cushion!

The square has turned out not to be 6 inches, but 5 5/8 inches; I don’t know why. Also, one edge is actually 5 1/2. I’m now worried that the next block I try will turn out to be a different finished size to this one… what to do if that happens?! Abandon it, or hope sashing will disguise it if it isn’t too much, or try and offset the blocks – no, that sounds too complicated! I’ll just have to cross that bridge when I come to it. I’m quite keen to try making the next one without paper, but don’t know if that’s feasible. That’s for the weekend. Meantime, I’m pleased I’ve eventually chosen a design for the next autumn block, after dithering about it for the best part of a fortnight, so at least have something to just get on with instead of having to try to make decisions, not my forté!

Cushion covers

After two weekends of minimal productivity on the cushion-making front, they are done at last!

I have a throw and two cushions, the last bought on the trip to Washington, on the sofa already, and though these cushions don’t go with them brilliantly, I think they’re okay. It’s a rented flat and one day I’ll have my own decor and they’ll fit with something in that, I hope.

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The buttonholes are going to take more than a little perfecting, but I like to think they’ve improved with practice…

I followed the instructions given by Tasha on her blog ‘By Gum, By Golly’ (http://bygumbygolly.com/2013/09/buttonholes-by-hand-vintage-sewing/), which I found just through searching for something like ‘how to make buttonholes’ – great tagging! And it’s a great website, makes me wish I could use my sewing machine well enough to make clothes rather than just struggling with straight lines. Her piece on making a pair of jeans is  amazing, I can’t even think what being able to do something like that must be like.

Anyhow, buttonhole practice –

As you can see, I didn’t manage to position the slit evenly between the top and bottom lines of stitching, with the result (not shown here) that there wasn’t room to do the bottom row. Anyway, I got the general idea, and it took so long to do that one that I thought I’d just have to use the cushion covers as the training ground – after all, they’re for our home and not a gift for someone else, so it doesn’t matter as much (though I like to make them the best I can, it’s a sort of affliction).

These are the last two, not even alas but not too bad, and better than the second of the finished buttonholes (on cushion no 1) which is really gappy at the edge so the gimp thread shows through.

Ideally I’d have used gimp thread that was the same colour as the overstitching thread, but it was the nearest I could get on ebay without spending a lot more. I’d never heard of gimp before I read the blog post, so looked it up online in case it means something different in UK to US, and to see where I could buy it. Turns out it does have another meaning, though that may not be a UK/US thing but the same in both countries, but which comes higher up in the search results, and which I don’t want to buy… I shall certainly tell the police that if they come calling.

The last two weekends have been a non-starter for getting anything done, due to other commitments (e.g. spending most of the day with parents-in-law last Sunday then the evening preparing for something work-related for Monday) so I was relieved to have finished cushion cover no 2 this weekend; I like to think I would have managed it even if a stinking cold hadn’t forced me to stay indoors all weekend, even cancelling my driving lesson, but I’m sure it has helped. Don’t like to think that that’s what it takes!

I’m pleased with the finished results, far from perfect as ever, but I’m pleased to have proved to myself I can get two x 14 inch cushion covers from a bundle of 4 fat quarters (and reduced price in a sale at that!).

Here are some photos before the padding was inserted:

And these are the finished items:

 

To try and psych myself back into the autumn quilt – the ‘first patchwork quilt’ of this blog’s title, still unfinished – I took a photo of all the blocks completed, laid out together. Depressing! It’s all so orange, which was not the idea… All I can think is that I have to make more blocks, without orange in them, to try to even it out. And again consider whether to use sashing. It’s difficult to have any enthusiasm for it and to keep (or restart) momentum when I can’t envisage an end result I’ll like. Stupidly, I knew this would be how it would turn out but I kept going anyway, because I liked making the individual blocks so much – well, you reap what you sew…

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Finally, and this has nothing whatever to do with patchwork, but sharing makes me feel better, I joined a new ball of yarn into the jumper sleeve I’m knitting, only to find about a a foot or two in that the yarn was about to break, so I cut out the broken part and rejoined it, which, incidentally, I’ve done with balls of this yarn before. After this happened three times in succession I pulled out all the little sections and joins, and proceeded to check the rest of the ball. After these many sections of yarns, I gave up and found another ball – what a swizz!

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Rowan yarns should be ashamed, that is a bad batch. I only hope I’ve enough wool to finish the garment; it’s taken me nigh-on 18 months so far, so fingers crossed.

Finally finally, my husband’s made a model tree to accompany / set off something else he’s made. I’m impressed, so thought I’d share:

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Cushion covers (almost ready to assemble)

For ages now I’ve thought it would be nice to make two matching cushion covers to replace charity shop ones my husband brought with him when we got married, which neither of us are particularly keen on, they just ‘do’, and now the zips are broken. So when I went to the sewing shop in our village on the first Tuesday in January, to investigate their sale fabric, and saw a co-ordinating pack of 4 fat quarters which I really liked, I knew what I could do with them – if they contained enough fabric. So there was a double challenge of making them, and seeing if I could stretch the fabric far enough. I’d always like the idea of patchwork being an economical, thrifty, thing, but the reality has proved different! Still, this bundle was reduced from £12.50 to £8.50, and I reckoned that if I could get two cushion covers out of it I would be doing quite well (always hoping that I had enough calico backing and wadding in stock). It was also a pleasure to be able to visit the sewing shop, as since they downsized and do most of their sales online they’re only open on weekdays and I’m not usually at home on weekdays, so it’s a rare thing to be able to visit.

The four co-ordinating fabrics are a sort of sage green, perhaps a little paler, in plain, a stripe, a gingham, and quite a loud check. I like that the colours and patterns are quite neutral but without being dull. I toyed with the idea of throwing in some burgundy squares, as both have blue undertones, but decided against it and am now glad of that. I think the loud check is enough of a contrast to the other three patterns. Here are a few options I toyed with:

While throwing around ideas when out walking I thought I’d like to put in some rectangles, rather than just squares, but did lay out some with just squares to see what it looked like before going back to plan A. As usual, deciding what to put where was my greatest challenge! But I was careful to cut strips from the fat quarters so that there were long pieces left from which to cut the pieces for the borders. These are the two designs I ended up with:imgp0153

I think I actually finished these the weekend after I bought the fabric, which is a record. Something else I wanted to do was go straight from buying the fabric to making something with it, I too often plan and buy but then due to having other things to finish it sits in the basket and somehow never looks as nice when you go back to it.

Flushed with the near-success of making mitred corners on the Christmas cushion, I went for them again for the borders for these. As part of making the cushions a pair-but-different I went for both having two plain sides and two patterned, but the patterned different on each. It is amazing the difference the border makes to a piece of patchwork!

I think it was only at this point that I realised the bottom row of each one is the same! Never mind, I doubt they’ll end up sitting the same way up on the sofa, and you’d have to really be staring at them (and care enough) to notice that. I think the borders took me the whole of the next weekend. Then the weekend just gone I quilted one front and made the backs for both. Although I did unpick a couple of bits of quilting I felt weren’t neat enough and redid them after work the last few evenings! I should have said, making the quilt tops also required a fair bit of unpicking and redoing, occasionally due to sewing machine hiccups (aka my ineptitude), but more often because I like the lines of the pattern on the fabric to look lined up, which of course hasn’t always happened.

Having quilted the front using the machine – without the quilting foot but it seems not to have made a difference because the pieces are quite small, only 15 inches square – I rather wish I had done it by hand, because the heavy stitching, even though I used longer stitches, disguises the rectangles and makes them look like squares, whereas ‘stitching the ditch’ by hand like I did with the Christmas cushion would have made the stitching more discreet.

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In the picture below are the back pieces, each one 15 x 10 inches to give a decent overlap for an envelope-style closure. The one at the bottom right looks like the last strip is too short, but in fact the top two are too wide, I’m not sure how I managed that but it doesn’t matter because they’ll be taken into the seam when I sew fronts and back together. I was going to trim them down but it would have cut through the stitches.

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I had fun using what was left over from the fronts to piece together the pieces for the back. I did measure them and cut pieces of paper to size to try and piece them together in lunch breaks, but though that reassured me I had enough fabric, even taking seams into account, in the end it was to little avail because I’d measured the pieces before trimming them down so some of them turned out to be inaccurate so in the end I just trimmed them to the nearest quarter inch, and laid them out on the carpet, cutting a couple of larger pieces in  half lengthwise so there was a fairly even distribution of patterns between the pieces, and trimming others down because the two put side by side came to more than 15 inches. They’ll look different again when laid out to overlap, and I know visually I’ll loose some bits I quite like, but it can’t be helped.

I’ve decided I’d like to try to make buttonholes and have two buttons on the back of each of these, but I know that’s difficult – hence why they still have envelope openings in case the button fastening isn’t to be! I’ve seen online instructions on a website to do with vintage clothes, bought one of the types of thread required and sent off for the buttons and top stitching thread. They may not come in time for the weekend, but I will in any case quilt the other front and practise the buttonholes on pieces of scrap fabric. If I get them working reasonably okay, I’ll have to carefully position the backs and take the scalpel to them for incisions for the buttonholes – sharp intake of breath required for that one, I think!