Monday, August 15, 2011

Some thoughts about piecing

I am in a couple of Internet based bees and swaps.  It’s my first time joining something like this and overall it has been fun.  In the bee, I sent out material and instructions and the members sent me back the finished blocks.  I have to now assemble them into a quilt.  They also made some border blocks for me.  (Photo 1)
Photo 1: My bee block and partial border blocks
What has surprised me is the range of seam allowances and the use of thread.  One block looked dirty when it arrived – but the reality is the contributor used dark purple thread, regular sewing weight, which I assume is 30 or 40.  The “dirt” was the purple color burning through the lighter fabrics.  Where the seam allowance had been pressed open, the thread really shows.  Every reference I have read has stressed using neutrals for piecing.  I use white, cream, light gray or light beige for piecing. I use black, if the fabrics are very dark. I have grown to love Mettler’s Metrolene (now called Seralene), which is a polyester 120 wt thread. (Photo 2)  That in a 70/10 topstitch needle and a stitch length of 1.5 yields a very strong but almost unnoticeable seam.  Yea, if I have to tear it out, it takes some patience, but a good quality seam ripper works with it just fine.
Photo2: Seralene (metrolene)
So many places want you to use a scant seam.  WTF is a scant seam?  Anything open to interpretation makes consistency a problem.  I like Sally Collins approach: cut fabric using the entire width of the ruler lines, which will account for seam thread width.  That combined with Seralene, and stuff just comes out dead on, if I have paid attention while cutting and sewing.

Speaking of the seam allowance.  I went to school for a while in Germany.  My sewing teacher there drummed it into us that a machine in good working order will sew straight.  The sewer is the cause of crooked seams.  So I handle everything with a light touch.  A ¼”presser foot really isn’t enough.  In order to make sure I feed the material in correctly, I have taped 2 seam guides to my sewing area using ½”masking tape.  (Photo 3).  The inside edge of the left hand piece is the needle position, the inside edge of the right hand piece is at ¼ inch.  The black line is at ½”, the outer edge of that is at ¾”.  That way even large pieces or angled pieces are lined up and fed correctly. I press my seams open: the results lie flatter and matching is easier.  That’s part of the reason for the very short stitch length.  However, I still have a problem with the seam ends opening, so I make one or 2 backtrack stitches.  They aren’t hard to open, if needed, but hold everything closed until the next seam is sewn.  Not every seam gets pressed opened.  On narrow borders I tend to press towards that border to make it stand out.  When using very light colored fabric, I also tend to press towards the darker fabric.
Photo 3: Guide lines for sewing using masking tape.
Sharon Schamber stresses that most iron surfaces are over padded and make it hard to really press seams correctly.  She recommends making your own ironing surface, which I found easy to do and cheaper than commercial ones.  My surface measures 2 feet by 4 feet – not too wide but long enough for a normal width of fabric.  I first laid out a piece of canvas that was about 2”wider all the way around than the plywood.  Over that came a piece of cotton batting the same size as the plywood and on top of that I laid a piece of 5/8”plywood (You can buy these pre cut at most larger home improvement stores.).  I then stretched the canvas tightly and stapled it to the plywood.  When it gets too messy with thread and bits of fabric, I use one of those red lint remover wands.  If the canvas gets too gross after a while, it’s easy to replace.  Don’t use plywood less than ½” thick as it will warp from the steam and heat of the iron.  It fits perfectly on my work table and can be quickly put away, as my sewing room is also the guest room. Photo 4. 
Photo 4: My work table with homemade ironing surface.


Denise said...

You are so thorough. I love the detail of your explanations. I have always prided myself with the carefulness of my quilting, but you have me beat. :) I will definitively try some of your tips... I'm especially intrigued with the ironing setup.

Monica said...

Thanks,Denise. If you have something to add - something I should be aware of, this newbie would love to know about it! :-))

Denise said...

I do have a question... where do you buy the Mettler thread? I looked online and can see it in a 40 or 50 wt. I'd really like to try it... You a newbie?? No way! You are certainly well informed.

Monica said...

My local quilting store sells the full line of Mettler. including the Seralene. However, here's a site that sells Seralene as well as other Mettler threads:

danih03 said...

Ya I tried the scant seam and I wasnt sold. If my blocks end up a little smaller, then I will adjust.

Kirsten and Tracy said...

I've been looking to make an ironing station like this. Where did you get your base cabinet?


Monica said...

I had a friend who does hobby woodworking build it for me to my specs. I wanted the surface to be at the same height as my kitchen counter. I wanted a foldout, so it could be folded down when the room was being used as a guest room (that need has changed.) I then added the iron surface myself. I thought about the drawers and the shelving to store stuff I used often. The shelving is adjustable I also added those stick on/removable 3M hooks on one side for my rulers. I love this table. Where do you live? If in the PNW, I bet Tom would build one for you!