The Pressing Matter of Pressing

At some point in their creative process, most quilters try to refine their technique and increase their precision.  Achieving an accurate seam allowance is the first place we tend to go when looking at precision, but pressing seams properly is just as crucial.  Today for the 31 Day Blog Writing Challenge we were asked for our top tip, and I am going to talk about a few tools to help make your pressing easier.

  1. A starch alternative gives your fabric a slightly firmer hand that makes it easier to sew without stretching.  This is great for all forms of piecing, but it is especially useful for fabrics that will include piecing or applique on bias edges.  I pour my starch alternative into a mist dispenser to get a more even spray across the fabric I am pressing.
  2. This flat metal hem gauge is great for turning back a specific amount of fabric along the edge of a piece of fabric. As a quilter, I use this most when turning back the edges of quilt labels, but I find it extremely useful in constructing garments and bags.
  3. A wool pressing mat allows you to press seam allowances with very little distortion to the block.  The wool holds it in place just enough to prevent movement as you press that seam allowance flat.  The wool also has just enough give to it to absorb the thickness of the seam and prevent an unsightly bump in the quilt top.
  4. Go with the best quality iron that you can get. I recommend one that can be used dry or with steam.  This is a Hot Steam gravity fed iron. This means that a water reservoir is suspended above the iron, and you get steam by tapping a button with your thumb. This is a fantastic iron choice if you have a place you can permanently set up your ironing space.
  5. If you make clothes or bags, a tailor’s ham helps to emulate all sorts of curves to make your pressing look great!
  6. There are certain instances that you need to press a seam in a long narrow tube, such as a quilt sleeve. At these times, I use a large dowel rod on the inside of the tube to press the seam allowance open.
  7. My newest favorite pressing tool is a wool pressing bar and clapper. It is perfect for pressing any seam allowances open, and the wooden base also functions as a clapper to set a seam allowance.  If you press a seam with steam, you can help it set nicely by holding the clapper over it as it cools, similar to using the cool air function on your hair dryer.

I hope that these tools help you up your pressing game!

I am excited to be participating in this year’s 31 Day Blog Writing Challenge hosted by Cheryl Sleboda of Muppin.com, and I hope you will have the chance to check out some of the other awesome blogs that are participating this month.

Anna Maria Horner & Aurifil Showcase Project

If you have followed me long, you may have noticed that I love a good challenge, so when Aurifil offered their Artisans an opportunity to make a project using Anna Maria Horner’s fabric and Aurifil thread, I was excited to sign up!  It is hard to commit to a particular project without knowing what exact materials you will be given, but based on Anna Maria Horner’s  overall design aesthetic, I thought that a pillow would be a fun project.

Three fat quarters and a spool of Aurifil were provided for the challenge.  I had requested 12wt thread because I intended to incorporate some large stitch hand quilting into the cushion.  I didn’t even think about the design of the pillow until the fabrics arrived because I knew I wanted the fabric to be the key inspiration for this project.  As soon as I saw the large floral inspired print, I was sure that it needed to be the focus of the design.

I had just enough large floral motifs to use one for the center of the pillow and a half motif for each corner.  To start, I marked where the center circle would eventually be cut out and placed the  corner motifs based on that mark.  I then used 80wt Aurifil to hand appliqué the motifs.  Once this was complete, I cut out the center circle and machine pieced the center circle into place using 50wt Aurifil.  To finish the construction of the top, I placed the central motif and used needle turn appliqué to secure it.

With the piecing and appliqué complete, it was time to begin the quilting process.  I selected a wool batting so the pillow top would have a bit of poof to it and really show off the hand stitching.  The quilting on this project really embraced decorative stitching, and I used it as an opportunity to try out several different techniques since the back of the quilting would be enclosed in the pillow.

I started by machine quilting around the circle and each floral motif.  I had 12wt thread on top and 50wt thread in the bobbin, and I loosened the tension slightly so I could have enough give to the stitching to wrap each stitch by hand with a strand of 50wt thread.  This resulted in a stitch that looks like a whipped backstitch, but it took a lot less time!

The rest of the pillow top is quilted using a total of seven colors of 12wt Aurifil that I selected to accent the colors in the fabric.  The bronze color was sent for this project, the light green came in this year’s Aurifil Artisan box, and the remaining colors had been used in previous projects.

I used a standard running stitch and several embroidery stitches to quilt the pillow including the closed fly stitch, French Knots, seed stitches, and variations of cross stitches.

The back of the quilted panel shows off how much stitching went into this project.

A yo-yo in the center of the floral motif completed the pillow top.  I thought that it would be fun to finish the center of the motif with the background print the motif was cut from!

To make the pillow cover easy to remove for cleaning, I inserted a lapped zipper into the backing fabric.

The final touch that I wanted to add was a piped edging covered with the remaining striped challenge fabric.  I love how the bias cut fabric looked with all of the angle changes within the fabric design.  This would make amazing quilt binding!

I selected a feather filled pillow form, and combined with the wool batting it creates a delightful feel for a throw pillow.

Canvas Gift Bags

As I was wrapping gifts on Saturday it occurred to me that a reusable bag would make more sense for several of the items I was about to wrap.  I don’t usually purchase a large amount of any single fabric, but I did have some plain canvas on hand.  Since the canvas has more body and substance to it than a standard quilting cotton, it didn’t even require a full lining.

Drawstring Gift Bag

The Christmas-y fabrics I had on hand were also very limited, but I did have enough to use as a facing on the top of the bag to add a bit of color and create the drawstring casings.  Awhile back I had ordered 3/8″ grosgrain ribbon in a variety of colors to have on hand for various projects, and it worked perfectly for this project.  It was purchased from cheeptrims.com (not an affiliate) which has great prices, but does have a minimum order, so you may want to pool orders with a friend.

Drawstring Bag Top View

To calculate the size of each bag, I loosely wrapped a fabric measurement tape around the gift, leaving a few inches excess to allow for seam allowance and ease.  Half of this measurement was the width of the bag.  For the height I also wrapped the measuring tape around the gift vertically and divided the measurement in half.  I made sure to add 7-8″ to each half to allow for the gathering at the top of the bag and for the ruffle at the top.  The corners are also boxed out to give the bag a bit more dimension.

These bags work great, and I’ll be making more to gift in future years!

Open-Out Box Pouches

The Open-Out Box Pouch was the star of a recent sew-in I participated in.  This adorable pattern is designed by Comfort Stitching.  We came to the sew-in with the bag pieces pre-cut and interfacing pressed into place, so I was able to get two sewn in a few hours.

Open Out Box Pouch Pair

The pouch with the llamas is the one I was making for myself, so I did each step on it before working on the second pouch.  That way I was hopefully making any mistakes on my own pouch instead of the one I was planning to gift.  The matching zipper helped hide some of the first-time-making-a-pattern-awkwardness! For the folded tab, I chose cork for both bags.

Llama Open Out Box Pouch

This bag looks similar to a lot of zippered pouches at first glance, but this one has a separating zipper that allows the bag to open into a boxed shape.  It is great to be able to see everything in the bag, and it sits open without any effort.  Inserting the gusset was a little tricky, but after trying one, the next went really smoothly.

Llama Open Out Box Pouch open

For the second pouch I chose a triangle print in a blue ombre with green lining and orange zipper.  Blue and orange is my favorite complementary color scheme!  This pouch ultimately became part of the gift exchange at the holiday party for one of my guilds, and I think it went to a good home!

Triangle Print Open Out Box Pouch

Triangle Print Open Out Box Pouch open

Road Trip Case

This year for the Central Ohio Modern Quilt Guild we did an end of the year gift swap with a mix of  handcrafted and purchased items.  We drew names at the November Meeting, and the person I chose had been eying the Road Trip Case by Noodlehead.  My partner likes Autumnal colors and Alison Glass designs, so I selected a palette  of her batiks and prints.

Road Trip Case Exterior

There are several different pockets and pieces of trim, so it was fun to choose where each fabric would go.  The pattern suggests batting for the quilted case exterior, but I switched it out for Soft and Stable foam, and I’m really pleased with the result.  I incorporated a few lines of walking foot quilting on the exterior using 28wt Aurifil.

Road Trip Case Interior

There are two options for the fabric pockets in the bag; two long or four short.  I wasn’t sure which to go with, but I ended up choosing the shorter pockets since it will most likely be used for sewing notions.  The pocket flaps with hook and loop tape (velcro) closures seemed useful to help contain smallish notions.  I often don’t care for hook and loop tape closers since the hook side can pick up so much fuzz.  I briefly considered replacing the tape with magnetic snaps.  Ultimately, I decided that the velcro allowed more leeway in where the pocket flap could close depending on how full the pocket was.  Hopefully it will work for my partner!

Road Trip Case Pocket detail

The case itself went together fairly easily, and I’m sure if I were to make more it would go quite quickly.  Like most bags, I felt like it took as long to cut out and interface the pieces, as it did to do the actual construction.  The vinyl pocket has the potential to be finicky, but I was pleased how well my machine handled this fabric especially since I don’t have a teflon foot.  I didn’t even end up needing to lay tissue paper over the vinyl while sewing.

The Road Trip Case looks like a great bag for small sewing projects, and would be a fabulous art kit for kids.  This would definitely make a fabulous holiday gift!