Monday, September 6, 2010

Making the Stars with Freezer Paper Piecing

At last I felt I was ready to start the stars!! Looking at my overall quilt design, I decided to shade from dark purples to red purples to reds to red-orange. I was going to skip the shading to blue since my sister wasn't a big fan of blue. It seemed like red was a good place to start. I needed 8 different reds for the pie shaped pieces around the outside of the stars, a theme of two reds and two pinks/neutrals for the sixteen point outer star. For the inner star I needed three reds and three pinks/neutrals for the inner star and again, a palette of 8 reds to make the inner pie-shaped pieces. Looking over her design, she seemed to randomize the pie pieces a little more, but I decided to just use the same 8 fabrics for simplicity's sake.
I followed a sketch on p2 of the directions (p84 in the book)which suggested an assembly method. (See below). First I would sew together pieces E to make a tiny point, then sew on pieces D to make a larger pie piece, then pieces F to the outside and finally sew the assembly onto a larger point G2 which I had previously made. That made a quarter star and I just had to sew together 4 quarters to make the inner star. I reasoned that assembling the outer star ring would be a lot like the 4 pointed arcs, just more. Having it all figured out, I launched into it.

Above layout, lights on left. Below detail layout, darks on left. Who knew?

Not quite. The left sides of the points were dark and the rights light. Or was it the other way around? I'd made my 4-pointed arcs with the lights on the left and the darks on the right. How could I have made such a mistake? Then I looked again at her patterns. On p2 and on the front of the book, darks are on the left; on p4 of the directions (p 87 in the book), the layout shows darks on the right. I guess I used the layout for the arcs. But I had already made freezer paper pieces, carefully reversing the dark and light on the shaded pattern pieces in the book since I would be pressing the paper to the wrong side. And I had, in an early flush of enthusiasm, already cut some pieces of fabric using the templates and they were now reversed. I couldn't waste those, could I? So I decided to leave the arcs and the stars as is, since the arcs in the finished quilt snake through the stars and it would take a quilt judge to notice.

I had decided to follow a suggestion earlier in the book (on p 42) and make some points by sewing strips of fabric together and then cutting the points, saving having to sew the precise, symmetrical "dart" points. It worked, but I ended up wasting a lot of fabric since I could only cut 18 to 22 in strips from my fat quarters. I also ran into trouble with Y-seams in sewing the small stars (see below). I quickly abandoned this method and devised an easier method for assembling the large pointed arcs which I'll talk about later.

I almost immediately realized that assembling the inner star as the layout suggested (refer to picture above) would require that I make 12 (count'em, 12) Y seams. I was no stranger to Y-seams, having made a huge lonestar medallion quilt with a border of smaller LeMoyne stars . But 12 per star? and I'm making 11 stars? I may be skilled at it, but I'm not crazy. Nevertheless, for my first star I did make 8 Y-seams, as I had (you guessed it) already made 8 tiny "E" points and couldn't waste the fabric, could I?

So I FINALLY hit on the best way to sew the inner stars. First, make freezer paper pieces by assembling pieces E (left and right), two symmetrical pieces D, then an F and finally half a G2. (see above, my cut and pasted paper piecing templates). Make 4 "left" hand pieces with a light F piece and a dark G2 piece, and 4 "right" hand patterns with a dark F piece and a light G2 piece. Photocopy a few extra paper pieces , as it is helpful to sometimes use subsets of the pattern papers (a right-handed D and E subset to go with the left-handed D, E, and F).

I quickly abandoned any hope of using the tiny template pieces I had already cut out. I decided to cut oversize pieces and trim as I went, as is the classic method for paper piecing, also illustrated on p 52. The dimensions I used were:

Piece E: 3 1/2 x 2 in, 8 light, 8 dark
Piece F: 4 x 2 1/2 in, 8 light, 8 dark
Piece D: 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 in, 16, all dark, for simplicity, 2 ea of 8 different fabrics.
Piece G2: 6 x 2 3/4 in, 8 light, 8 dark.

As I got better at doing the piecing, I found I could use the fabric pieces left from the first piecing to make a second one as I cut rectangles and the piecing generated triangles. Except for D, which makes a pie-shaped piece.

Sewing directions:

Choose a left hand paper and crease along the E and D line on the left. (If working with a virgin paper pattern it is helpful to crease along all sewing lines at this point.) Choose a D fabric piece and a light E. Align the fabrics along the long edges and position them so when they are opened up that the faric covers the paper. With the iron, the corresponding paper lightly to the E fabric. Sew along the E/D crease, taking care to not catch the paper. Open up the paper, press the E/D seam towards D and then press lightly to the D fabric. Crease along the E/D line and F line. Trim the E/D piece to a 1/4 in seam.

Choose a dark F rectangle and line it up with trimmed seam, ensuring that when opened it covers the F pattern. Stitch on the line, open up the piece, press the seam towards the E/D side, and iron down the paper. Trim along the outside of the F pattern to a 1/4 in seam. (Insert pictures).

Assemble another D square fabric and a dark E in a similar manner with a small pattern cut from another paper. After trimming, line up the light and dark E pieces the line, matching the E/D seam. Note that the pressed seam allownaces will be on top of one another, not nested. It is necesssary to press the seams away from the points to ensure sharp points. Peel off the bottom paper and save to be used again. Stich carefully along the E/D crease. Open up the seam and check for alignment and make any adjstments now. When you are ssatisfied with your match, press the seam towards the dark E and lighlty press down the paper.

Lastly, take a light G2 fabric rectangle and line up the long edge to the F/E/D seam line. Folding the paper back, sew along the crease. Iron down the paper piece and trim your piece so that you have a 1/4 in seam allowance all around. You now have a left hand eighth section.

Make the right hand section similarly, reversing lights and darks. Asemble a quarter star by lining up the G2 pieces along the G2/D line, matching the seam and removing the bottom paper before carefully stitching. Removing the paper helps prevent stiching through the pattern and ruining it for reuse. When you are satisfied with your point, press the seam towards the dark side. You now have a completed quarter.

Save all your used papers. As long as you don't stitch through the papers and rip them, or lose the narrow points, the plastic on the freezer paper lasts through quite a few ironings.

At this point, I got very excited to make a finished large star. I sewed my four quarters together, matching the F points and F/G2 seams carefully. The small star was beautiful. All I had to do was sew the outer ring and sew them together. As I will explain later, DON'T DO THIS. HAVE PATIENCE. Leave off at making the four quarters.

I am going to excise this last section and include some photos of the assembly in a future post.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

More Adventures with Paper Piecing (and Blogging)

Note to my readers: to those of you who are trying to follow this blog, I am not only learning how to make this quilt, I am also learning how to create blogs and insert pictures. Thanks for your patience.

Lastly, I tried paper piecing. I used the "master" (at left) I had generated for the freezer paper and photocopied onto plain photocopier paper. I sewed exactly along the lines, with the much smaller stitch length suggested. I found it difficult to get everything to match up as I was working with the template cut fabric with only a 1/4 in seam allowance (afterall, I had already cut the fabric, and didn't want to waste it) and not oversized pieces. But I persevered and made a very passable arced piece. But when I tried to rip off the paper, it distorted the seam and in some cases caused the stitching to come loose. I talked to my paper piecing friend and she said to dampen the paper and then rip it off. This was ok, but I ended up having to use tweezers to remove the last bits.
Better yet, buy some tissue paper for piecing. In my previous endeavors I had used some old paper patterns from my dressmaking days (the ones with huge swaths of paper for making shirtwaists), but had purged my patterns and was paperless. Sigh. Back to the quilt store to get some paper piecing paper. This time $10.00 for 100 sheets. I asked myself the question: How much more money was I going to spend on supplies for this quilt? I had already spent $10.00 for 30 sheets of freezer paper which I could put in my photocopier, and two sheets of template plastic at about $1.70 each, all the fabric my sister and I had purchased, and the allure of more new reds & purples had not yet subsided. Maybe I should just stick with the freezer paper and with practice it would get easier. Reason prevailed, and I rewarded myself by purchasing a few fat quarters of new fabric which had just arrived.

Monday, May 17, 2010

First Dawning of Trouble

Finally, the visitors had departed and I was alone with my fabric and my quilt pattern. I decided to settle down with a cup of coffee and the book: Mariner's Compass, New Directions, by Judy Mathieson, and finally read the directions and figure out how I was going to make this quilt. The desciption started on page 83. Four pages followed of template patterns and 1/4 page of a "suggestion" of how to assemble the inner star with the star ring. The second paragraph on page 83 begins "Space does not allow me to offer detailed instructions on how to assemble the complete Starfire quilt." Hmmm.

Undaunted, I find Judy Mathieson's website and dash off an email, asking her if she has any more detailed directions for the quilt. A few days later, she replied. No, she didn't have any further instructions, but she had seen versions of the quilt, so other people had made it. She wished me luck.

My first job was to figure out how to modify the pattern to make a king-size quilt. The Pattern directions said that the diameter of the star was 25 in., but I needed to figure out how many stars to fit in a larger quilt. I made many photocopies and cut and repasted circles, half-circles and arcs to make what I thought would be a 110" x 110" quilt. (I always prefer to make my quilts square so they can be put rotated on the bed and wear evenly.) Using the pattern in the book as a guide, I figured out the scale I needed. My final pasted together design required 11 stars--9 whole stars and 4 halves. The pattern in the book called for 5 stars--3 whole and 4 halves. Wow, that was a whole bunch more stars. I reasoned that if my calculations weren't correct, I would find out after I made the first star and remeasured everything.

I began to make templates by photocopying onto cardstock. They proved too flimsy to use more than once or twice. So I bought a sheet of plastic template material and made all the templates in the book, both with and without 1/4 in seam allowances. I cut out enough fabric to make one star. (Great idea). I quickly found out it was very difficult to sew the small star accurately just with normal sewing, despite Ms. Mathieson's advice that accurate measuring and sewing works very well. So I made photocopies of the templates from the book, glued them together on another piece of paper to make larger templates which I could use for freezer-paper piecing. I bought a pack of 30 sheets of freezer paper onto which I could photocopy my new templates. Through much experimentation, ironing on of freezer paper, sewing through freezer paper and having to rip it off, I made my first small, inner star. Mid-way through I realized that if I followed her assembly diagram, I was faced with a "Y" seam. (See above layout.) Not just one, but twelve per star. There had to be a better way Finally I figured it out and I'll share those directions here in a later post.

The outer ring was much easier, as the points were bigger and I could practically breeze through it after the smaller center star. I could maneuver the larger pieces more easily and the freezer paper stabilized them. I also learned that, after pinning the pieces and using the freezer paper to align the pieces accurately, it was best to remove the bottom piece and just stitch along the lines of the top piece. I still had a little trouble with making the points symmetrical, but I made a whole star in one day. Sewing the curved seam to attach the inner star to the outer ring brought back memories of setting sleeves from my dressmaking days. The finished star was gorgeous. It also measred precisely 25 inches across. I rechecked the number of stars needed. My calculations seemed to be right.

But cutting the fabric from the templates was not working well for the small star--the pieces were just too small and there was no room for error. Also, it seemed like I was constantly pulling off freezer paper and having to iron it back on. To say nothing of toasting my fingers and worrying about my electricity bill. I decided to try paper piecing, as a friend of mine from our quilting group kept assuring me it was the "way to go".

Friday, May 14, 2010

Thanksgiving 2009

People started arriving for T-Day on Tuesday: my stepdaughter and her husband, daughter aged 7 and new son aged 9 mos from North Carolina, then my sister and her husband from Missouri, my niece and her husband and barely one-year-old son from Chicago, my daughter Annemarie and her husband from Summit County, a cousin and friends from Fort Collins. My husband was ecstatic that we had 19 people for Thanksgiving Day dinner. He fried the turkey, I cooked everything else with the help of my daughter and sister, including a vegetarian entree and 4 pies. My brother-in-law served the wine and led the charge to clean up the kitchen.

I showed the book of Mariner's Compass patterns to my sister in the evening while turkey and football torpor set in for the rest of the family. After some consultation and perusing of the patterns, we settled on the cover quilt of Judy Matthiesen's book. The pattern is called "Starfire" and has a 16 point star with an outside ring of another 16 points. On the cover and inside the book, a photograph of the quilt showed gradations of color from purple through blue to red. My sister isn't that fond of blue, so we decided to grade the color from dark purple to red-purple to red. OK, off to the quilt shop on Saturday.

Saturday my sister and I stole off to the Fig Leaf in Fort Collins. I hastily perused the book, looking for instructions on how much fabric to buy. I would have to approximate anyway, since the quilt in the book was only 84" x 84", and my sister wanted a king-size quilt. I couldn't quickly find any specifics, but wasn't concerned since I had "upsized" patterns before which I thought were a little small. In our hurry, we just decided to buy fat quarters of everything, and 1/2 yards of fabric we really liked.

My sister paid for the first round of fabric, a little over $80.00. The next week I added more fat quarters to the stash from another favorite quilt shop at 136th St off I-25, Tomorrow's Heirlooms on a trip back from Denver.

Finally, after pre-shrinking, ironing and starching, it was time to get started!!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Beginning

I've been quilting since 2002 or '03. My sister wanted me to make her a Mariner's compass quilt. So after finishing two baby quilts and one wedding quilt last year, I put the last of a tryptych of "Japanese Postcards" wall hanging quilts for my daughter on hold and began the search.

Medallion Mariner's Compass quilts I liked, but most of the borders and exterior designs seemed too messy, distracting from the center star. Most multiple designs seemed too regular. I was leaning toward an asymmetrical design, one I vaguely remembered from a Heritage Quilt show up in Cheyenne, Wyoming a few years back. That was the problem, I could barely remember and the picture I had taken in a dark hall wasn't going to help much, even if I could find it.

I printed designs from the 'net, borrowed friend's books and hung out in the book sections of quilt shops searching for the perfect pattern. Finally I found Judy Mathieson's "Mariner's Compass Quilts", subtitled New Directions, published in 1995. (I think it is out of print.) The colors were vibrant and the designs stunning. So what if I (finally) had to learn paper piecing? I had already done a queen-size Lonestar quilt with a border of 24 smaller LeMoyne stars as my second full-size bed quilt. No sawtooth stars for me!!

I signed the book out of the League of Northern Colorado Quilter's lending library in anticipation of my sister's visit over Thanksgiving 2009.