Saturday, August 29, 2015

What's In A Tweet, Anyway?

I held out for so long.  Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it has never been MY strong suit -- and I don't really have time to waste on yet another social media platform.  So I have completely ignored Twitter and "tweeting" up to this point and know very little about it other than the nasty Donald Trump tweets that made headlines recently.  But Son the Eldest, who is on Parental Technology Probation and is temporarily banned from social media, informed me that his AP Psychology teacher tweets hints for her daily reading quizzes, letting students on Twitter know ahead of time what one of the five quiz questions will be.  So I have jumped down the rabbit hole into the weird alternate universe of the little blue Tweetie Bird in the interest of my son's academic success. 
Bizarrely, when I first attempted to create a new Twitter account USING MY OWN GMAIL ADDRESS, I was informed that someone named Stogner Obola, located in Indonesia, already had created a Twitter account for that email address.  For MY email address.  What?!!  I had them send a password reset to my email address, and then I was able to get into this Stogner person's account, which was suspended by Twitter for spam activity.  Uh-huh.  I changed the password, user name, and all the settings and information but I'm still kind of weirded out by it.  I've had that gmail account since 2009 and I don't think it has ever been compromised, and I have never received any emails from Twitter that I remember.  I don't know how someone could have created the account in the first place without being able to access and confirm my email account.  Whatever -- it's been reclaimed, and they are not getting into it again.
 
So now that I have this Twitter account, I would like to know whether there is any potential value in it for me.  Should I just follow the AP Psychology teacher so I can pass the quiz hints along to my son and leave it at that, or is there anything in Twitter for me?  Do any of you use Twitter, and if so, what for? 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Sparkle, Sparkle Sparkle! Of Asscher Cut Diamonds and Pineapple Log Cabins

Block 17 of 36
Seventeen down, nineteen to go!  I'm starting to get in the groove of these paper pieced pineapple blocks.  The only real issue I'm having is controlling some of the longer strips as I get to about the outer third of the block construction.  What's happening is that, despite pressing the previously added strips as flat and as crisp as I possibly can, when I add the subsequent corner strips that previously pieced side strip is shifting slightly once I flip the block upside down and start sewing.  Then I open up the strip I just added to press it open, and end up with a bubble or a crease in the longer side strip.

I haven't been using pins for most of these blocks, but I started experimenting with them in the outer portion of this block to see if it would prevent my issue.

Experimenting With Flathead Pins
No dice.  I don't know if the pins created additional distortion or what, but I tried pinning several times and found that I was just as likely to have to unpick the seam even if I had pinned it.  So then I tried starching some of my flimsier fabric strips to see if that would help, because the problem is not occurring every single time.  Maybe it's just certain fabrics that don't want to cooperate?

Now that I'm thinking about it and looking at my photo, maybe I went about pinning things entirely the wrong way.  I pinned the new green corner strip that I was adding, but that's not where the problem was originating.  Maybe I need to pin the neutral side strip, parallel to its own seamline, to keep that seam completely flat and all the way open while I attach the unpinned corner piece?  I'll try that on my next block.

Blocks 16 and 17
Meanwhile, my kids started back to school on Monday.  Hooray!!  Ninth grade and seventh grade, can you believe it?  High school starts at 7:15 AM and the bus comes at 6:40, which means that Kiddo the Elder has to wake up at 5:30 AM every day.  Kiddo the Elder does not WANT to wake up at 5:30 AM every day, and claims that he cannot even hear his alarm clock blasting throughout the house.  This means that Mom and Dad have been getting up at 5 AM so we can have our coffee and feed the dogs, steeling ourselves in the quiet of the predawn darkness before we head into the daily battle of getting the high school boy out of his bed and into the shower.  No sooner does this kid saunter out to the bus stop than it is time to wage a second battle with Son the Younger.  By the time he leaves the house at 8:30 AM, we're both exhausted!

So, here are the last two blocks that I've finished (at left), #16 and #17.  They most likely won't be adjacent to one another in the finished quilt, but I like to put a few blocks up on the design wall from time to time to see how the secondary pattern is coming together. 

I'm not sure whether I've mentioned this before, but I may have some trouble in store for me once all of the blocks are completed and I try to sew them together.  The free paper piecing pattern that I downloaded from Fons and Porter prints out on normal 8 1/2" x 11" paper in four quadrants that need to be trimmed and taped together for each block.  After painstakingly assembling just one block, I realized how difficult and time consuming it would be to try to do it that way, and I didn't want to deal with the hassle of stitching and ironing over the taped seams.  So I took my one assembled block to the FedEx Office store and printed out 36 full block patterns on their large format printer (the post explaining how I did that can be found here).  Unfortunately, either my original taping and assembly was not 100% accurate or I got some distortion when I scanned in my taped block, because my blocks are not 100% square.  I discovered this with the very first block I completed.  When I had it on my cutting mat upside down and overlaid my clear plastic ruler, matching up grid lines on my ruler with the outer seam lines printed on the paper block pattern, I am just a little smidge off square on one of the corners.  When I pin my blocks together on the design wall, I can see that this is causing some of the seam lines to not want to line up precisely when it comes time to sew the blocks together.

I haven't decided what to do about this yet.  On the one hand, I DO have bias edges where the blue and green fabrics are on the outer edges of the blocks.  Maybe I can impose my iron will on the bias (pun intended, since I'll impose my will with a steam iron!) and MAKE them fit!  On the other hand, the antique quilt that inspired my pineapple log cabin quilt does not have every seam lining up perfectly from one block to another; in fact, the original quilt is so severely off at some of the block seams that it's almost as if the quiltmaker didn't even TRY to match them up: 

See?  Mine Won't Be THAT Bad!  :-)

#2008.040.0085, 76" x 74", circa 1890-1910, International Quilt Study Center and Museum
Asscher Cut Diamond
And yet that original quilt still looks fantastic from a distance, imperfections and all.  Naturally, as I'm looking at the original antique quilt again, I'm noticing that it only has 16 blocks.  If I was making mine the same size, I'd be done by now!  The other thing I'm noticing is that the original quiltmaker (anonymous, but thought to be American) did not limit the side strips to neutral or "low volume" fabrics, as we sometimes call them today.  She (or he) threw in some reds, pinks, and golds, and I do kind of like how those rings of unexpected color pop out -- they make the blocks sparkle like the facets of an Asscher cut diamond.  And that's an interesting aesthetic connection to me, since the original quilt dates to between 1890-1910 and the Asscher cut for diamonds was designed in 1902.  I wonder whether the original quiltmaker had ever seen an Asscher cut diamond, perhaps even a picture of one in the newspaper, and whether it influenced the design of this quilt?  Conversely, I wonder whether Joseph Asscher, the Dutch designer of the iconic diamond cut that bears his name, ever saw and was inspired by a pineapple log cabin quilt?

In any case, I think I'm going to start mixing in a few more surprises amongst my neutral fabric strips as I proceed with my remaining blocks (all nineteen of them!) and see if I can't get more of an Asscher/Art Deco effect for my own quilt. 

I'm linking up with:
Needle and Thread Thursday at My Quilt Infatuation
Can I Get a Whoop Whoop? at Confessions of a Fabric Addict

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, August 21, 2015

UNFinished On a Busy Friday

Pineapple Log Cabin, Block #16 of 36
I feel like I'm not accomplishing anything, but I really am making progress on some of my projects.  It's just really SLOW progress.  I finished another paper pieced pineapple log cabin block, finishing at 17 3/4" with 97 pieces per block. 


Goal Visualization, Courtesy of EQ7
Procrastinating on my skirt project has reinvigorated my zeal for paper piecing these pineapples!  Seriously, though -- I need a quiet house and my full concentration before I dig into the skirt again, so it might have to wait until the kids start back to school on Monday.  Which is three days away.  Not that I'm counting or anything...

I've also been working on my Frankenwhiggish Rose needle turned applique blocks.  Rather I have been working on appliqueing the layered petals off the blocks, I should say:

28 Petals Finished, 4 More To Go
It FEELS like I have been sewing the same little petal over and over again, like I'm Bill Murray starring in a quilt-themed remake of the film Groundhog Day, but actually I have finished all of the petals for seven blocks and I just have four more to go.  So it's almost time to get those remaining eight block backgrounds pieced together and get all of the stems made and stitched down.  Then I can start appliqueing the petals onto the blocks and I think it will feel more like progress is being made once the blocks start coming together. 

Block 1 of 9 Completed
The silk thread felt weird and slippery to me at first, but I've gotten used to it now and it does behave better for me -- way less trouble with thread kinking, knotting and breaking on me.

We had Open House for high school with Lars on Wednesday morning, and we will have Anders' middle school open house this afternoon.  That's when we meet the teachers and get the supply lists.  So tomorrow we'll be shopping for school supplies in a mobbed office supply store.  Meanwhile, in addition to the open house today, I have a doctor's appointment, the piano tuner is coming, and Anders has a birthday party to attend this evening. Busy, busy day! 

I'm linking up with Can I Get a Whoop Whoop at Confessions of a Fabric Addict, because I need all the whoop whoops I can get.  Happy stitching and have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Welcome to My Studio!

My Studio Today
Amy of Free Motion Quilting Adventures has been reorganizing her sewing workspace lately, and today she is hosting a linky party for everyone to show off their quilting studios.  I realized that although I had been posting bits and pieces about my studio remodel throughout the process, I didn't have one post that showed off the whole room.  I apologize in advance, because I did not clean up for you before I started taking pictures.  This is my studio in action, the way it looks when I am actually working in here.  It used to be much, MUCH worse.

About three years ago, before I bought my Bernina 750 QE, my sewing room looked like this:
My Former Sewing Dungeon
Yikes, right?  It's a wonder I ever finished ANYTHING in that dump!  The new sewing machine inspired me to revamp my studio, making it more attractive and more functional.  My biggest issues were:
  • Insufficient Lighting.  My workspace is a bonus room above our garage, and I have a vaulted ceiling that had NO lights except for four dinky light bulbs on a ceiling fan. 
  • Insufficient Power Supply.  I did not have enough outlets, and when my iron cycled on and off, all of the lights dimmed.
  • Serious Fabric Hoarding.  I'm an interior designer, and over the years I had amassed way too many remnants of beautiful fabrics that I was never going to use, but couldn't bear to throw away.  These bolts of fabric were leaning against every wall and threatening to crowd me out of my own room.
  • No Design Wall.  I couldn't tell whether I liked a quilt until AFTER I had sewn all of the blocks together because I had nowhere to lay them out.
  • Inadequate, Barely Functional HV/AC.  My studio is in a second-story bonus room above our garage, which is great because it's out of the way, but it was freezing cold in the winter and too hot to use the iron in the summer.
  • No Storage for Quilting Stash, Embroidery Threads, Rulers, Embroidery Hoops, and Other Tools.
It's actually a decent sized room:
My Studio

...And here's what it looked like when I emptied it of most of the clutter so it could be painted:
Ready for Remodel!
Our sons were a lot younger when we bought this house, and I was originally thinking that this room would be their playroom.  The previous owners had a pool table in here.  I love my husband for insisting that the kids take the other bonus room on the third floor so that I could have this space for my sewing room!

When we remodeled the room, the first thing I did was to have an HV/AC company redo the duct work of the entire second floor of our home, splitting it into two zones, and moving the thermostat from our master bedroom at the back of the house to the hallway adjacent to my studio.  Now the heat or air conditioning, as the season dictates, cuts on more frequently and there is adequate airflow coming into the studio to actually heat and cool the room.

Next, my talented husband addressed my lighting and electrical issues for me.  We ditched the ceiling fan (which just blew my fabric all over the place anyway) in favor of a customized Goth 6-light chandelier that was left over from remodeling my dining room.  I spray painted it, changed out the amber crystals for smooth clear ones, and put on new white candle sleeves.  Bernie installed four new can lights, a dedicated outlet for my iron, and in-ceiling speakers so I can rock out to whatever music tickles my fancy while I sew.  All of the light bulbs in my studio are LEDs, by the way, for truer color, savings on electricity, and best of all, they don't create any additional heat when I'm working in here during the hot summer months.  We painted the walls and ceiling a neutral ivory, a subtle but significant improvement over the builder's flat pinkish-ivory paint, and I had custom arched plantation shutters installed. 

I donated most of my hoarded interior design fabric remnants to the costume department of our local community theatre, which freed up a lot of space in the room.

Then I started working on how to organize the tools and fabrics that I kept:
Cutting and Planning Worktable with Maple Butcher Block Top
I LOVE my cutting table.  Because I am an interior designer when I'm not busy quilting, and mine is an occupation that corrupts common sense when it comes to home improvement projects, I ordered a custom maple butcher block counter top for my cutting table.  If I recall correctly, the surface of my cutting table weighs 700 pounds.  Only through a feat of engineering rivaling the pyramids did we manage to get the countertop up to the second floor of the house.  Seriously, though -- it's not a slick surface, so my cutting mat and fabrics don't slide around.  I can cut and pin against this surface without worrying about marring it.  Any little dings can just be sanded out, because it's basically a giant cutting board.  It's a light colored surface that reflects light, easy on the eyes especially when sewing at night.  It will last forever, and it's gorgeous.  We installed a barn light pendant over my cutting table to ensure adequate lighting for cutting precision (and to reduce the possibility of slicing off fingers in the dark).
Room for Multi-Tasking
What I really love about this table is its size, 42" x 97."  So I have room to cut on one side of the table, and plenty of room for staging and organizing on the rest of the table.  It's great for multitasking.  I have my quilting stash fabrics folded more or less neatly in wire bins below the cutting table, and the red drawer base you see is a KraftMaid kitchen cabinet drawer base that I ordered for use in my sewing room in our last home.  I painted it red and added the bronze drawer pulls accented with Swarovski crystals.  A girl's gotta have some bling. 
I keep my scissors, rotary cutters, applique templates and marking supplies in those drawers. 

Rubber Drawer Liner Keeps Scissors, Rotary Cutters from Sliding Around

As with good kitchen design, my goal is to store tools as close as possible to where I use them.  That's just cheap rubber padding that goes under area rugs that I've used as drawer liners.  It keeps my scissors and rotary cutting tools from sliding around, crashing together and getting nicked blades when I pull the drawers open and closed.  The drawer base is several inches shorter than my cutting table, which gives me a handy place to store my smaller rotary cutting mat and my sewing machine's slide-on extension bed.

Pegboard Storage for Rulers and Pattern Weights
We used ordinary peg board from Home Depot for my rulers and embroidery hoops, on the walls at either side of my cutting table.  The peg board was painted with the same color paint as the walls, which helps reduce the visual clutter and keeps my studio feeling spacious and open despite the astronomical amount of stuff in the room.


As you can see, I have additional wire bins at the back of my cutting table.  On this side of the table, the bottom bin is full of embroidery stabilizers, bobbin thread, and other items I use for machine embroidery.

Design Wall (Outlined in Blue)
Again, maximizing efficiency while reducing visual clutter, my design wall is almost exactly the same color as my wall paint, so I've outlined it in blue in the photo above.  We used two sheets of insulating foam from Home Depot and wrapped them in English Bump drapery interlining, because I had some left over from a design job.  As you can see, we had to cut away the corner of one of the sheets of insulating foam in order to fit against the sloped ceiling, but this is the only possible wall I could have used.  The opposite wall is full of windows and the two side walls are too short due to the sloped ceiling.  English Bump is basically a very thick, napped cotton flannel, and I specify it for high end silk drapery panels, but you could just as easily use regular drapery interlining or quilt batting for a design wall. 

Another Shot of the Design Wall

Let's see -- what haven't I shown you yet?  This is my current custom sewing cabinet, soon (hopefully!) to be rebuilt:


Current Sewing Machine Cabinet, 28 1/2" x 73"
I like the size, but I don't like the surface and it would be more comfortable for me for free-motion quilting if the surface was a bit higher.  It's actually the upside-down top of the kids' old Thomas the Train table, believe it or not, and it's not really strong enough or stable enough for this purpose.  It's starting to bow in the middle, it's not perfectly level for machine embroidery.  It's made of a particle board that has a bit of drag, which is also not the best for FMQ because I have to work that much harder to move the quilt around beneath the needle.  I haven't decided what the new top should be -- I'm thinking either a sealed maple butcher block so that it matches the cutting table but is slippery for quilting, or else a pretty polished granite remnant if I can find one that isn't too dark.  Carrera marble would be gorgeous, but it's probably not going to happen! 

The most important thing about the sewing cabinet, for me, is the large surface to support heavy quilts, and the ability to sink the machine into the cabinet:

Machine Recessed into Sewing Cabinet
My sewing machine is almost always in this recessed position, unless I need to use the free arm or I'm doing machine embroidery.

I have another KraftMaid kitchen drawer base unit on the right side of my sewing machine cabinet that matches the one beneath my cutting table, and it houses my collection of needles, presser feet, and machine attachments:

Presser Feet, Needles, Bobbins etc. Stored Within Easy Reach of the Sewing Machine
I keep my presser feet in numerical order as well.  On the left side of my sewing machine cabinet I have open shelving to accommodate my most often used sewing threads in ArtBin containers.  That's my spiral bound sewing machine manual on top of the top thread bin, so I can grab it whenever I have a question or I want to try a technique I haven't done in awhile.

Sewing Thread Stored in the Sewing Machine Cabinet
 Borrowing from kitchen design concepts again, I have a nice little work triangle (or work rectangle, really) between my sewing machine, cutting table, ironing board and design wall that no one needs to walk through:

My Primary Work Triangle: Sewing, Cutting, and Pressing
I have another desk pushed up against the back side of my sewing cabinet.  I clear that off to use the entire surface of both units when I'm quilting a big, heavy quilt.  Other times I use the desk as a secondary sewing station for projects I might be sewing on one of my Featherweights or with my serger.  I can't decide whether my redesigned sewing cabinet should be designed like a partners' desk, one mammoth surface with sewing workstations on either side.  Having them separate is definitely more versatile in case I ever want to rearrange things, but one large cabinet with a single surface would look cleaner and less of a hodge-podge.  And yes, it does bug me that I have one red sewing chair and one teal one.  ;-)

Then on the other side of the room I have a TV (front corner of the room, wall mounted, not pictured), my computer, and other supplies that I use only occasionally:

Anders at Mom's Computer Workstation
The bean bag chair is for kiddos who like to hang out in my sewing room with me and watch Tom and Jerry reruns. 

I'm a pretty infrequent machine embroiderer, so I keep my embroidery threads stored in a shelving unit against the far wall, in clear plastic storage bins to keep the dust off, all in numerical order so I can quickly locate the exact shade I'm looking for:

Isacord Machine Embroidery Thread, Organized in Numerical Order
Here's the rest of that shelving unit, which was also painted to blend into the walls for a less cluttered look:



The binders on the top shelf are collections of magazine articles, patterns, and class notes on different topics: Quilting Projects and Techniques, Free-Motion Quilting, Machine Embroidery, etc.  I also keep my machine and software mastery workbooks in binders on that shelf, back issues of magazines in the cardboard magazine holders, and supplies for hand embroidery and beadwork.  WIPs (Works In Progress) occupy the remaining shelves.

Featherweights, Hand Quilting Supplies, and Reference Books
Last but not least, my vintage Singer Featherweights live on this bookshelf, directly opposite the entrance to the room, so they are the first things I see when I come down the hallway.  This shelving unit also contains my sewing box full of hand quilting thread, needles, and my quilting thimble, my Featherweight manuals and attachments, and all of my sewing and quilting reference books.  Since my ironing board is just to the left of this unit, I keep my spray starch and sizing here as well.

Well, I didn't mean to go on and on like this forever, but I think I did a decent job of showing you my studio setup.  I still consider it a work in progress rather than a done deal, but I kind of got bored of it and wanted to start sewing again!  I know that I am very fortunate to have a large studio dedicated to my sewing and quilting projects.  It's wonderful to be able to leave everything out and know that even if I only have ten minutes to spare, I can come in here and pick up right where I left off and sew for ten minutes. 

I'm linking up with Amy's studio linky party.  Have a great weekend, everyone!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Design Wall Monday: Pineapple Log Cabin Block #15 of 36; Goodbye to Summer 2015

17 3/4" Pineapple Log Cabin, Block #15 of 36
I finished another pineapple log cabin block yesterday!  Now I have fifteen blocks completed out of the thirty-six that I will need for my California King size quilt.  Slowly but surely, the stack of blocks is growing.  I have a memo sample of my bedroom drapery fabric pinned to the upper right hand corner of my design wall, as a visual reminder to ensure that I incorporate the same shades of blues, greens and neutrals into my pineapple quilt so that it will look good in my bedroom when it is finished.  The clothes drying rack in front of my design wall is draped with 1 1/2" strips for my pineapple blocks, with blue strips on one side and green strips on the other side.  My neutral strips are spread out on a card table on the other side of the room.

My Design Wall, August 10, 2015
Meanwhile I'm still plodding away at the needle turned applique blocks for my FrankenWhiggish Rose (the first completed block for that project is in the top left hand corner of my design wall).  Directly behind the rack full of pineapple strips is the baby quilt Math Is Beautiful, based on a doodle I found in Lars's math notebook at the end of last school year.  That top is all sewn together but it still needs the borders attached (they are just stuck to the design wall right now). 


New Look Skirt #6708 (OOP), Also On the Design Wall
Last but not least, my skirt project is pinned to my design wall today.  I did mark the actual seam lines on the skirt and waistband pattern pieces so that I could match them up and make sure that they would fit together properly after I redrafted the waistband, and they did.  So I think I might finally be ready to cut out the REAL fabric!!  I decided to make a pineapple block before getting back to the skirt project (needed a shot of confidence), so I pinned my pattern pieces to the wall just to clear them off my cutting table while I was quilting.  That way they don't accidentally end up in the trash, or chewed up by Lulu the Terrible, Puppy Princess Extraordinaire.

But at this rate, it's going to be Fall by the time my cotton voile skirt is ready, so I probably should get back to that next, don't you think?

Meanwhile, the boys start back to school two weeks from today.  Not that anyone is counting or anything...  Anders will celebrate his 12th birthday this Thursday, and Lars is headed off to his Confirmation Retreat next weekend.  Before I know it, I'm going to have a seventh grader and a ninth grader!  I don't post many pictures of my family here, but we did get one terrific "family selfie" during our beach trip to Kiawah Island, South Carolina last month:

Rebecca, Lars, Bernie, and Anders, Kiawah Island, South Carolina
I'm linking up with Design Wall Monday at Patchwork Times, Monday Making at Love Laugh Quilt, Oh Scrap! at Quilting Is More Fun Than Housework, and Main Crush Monday at Cooking Up Quilts.  Happy Stitching, everyone!

Friday, August 7, 2015

The One Where I Meet Alex Anderson, Struggle With Control Issues, and a Bernina 790 Tries To Lure Me Away from My 750 QE



Rebecca Meets Alex Anderson!
I got to meet Alex Anderson last week at a two-day event sponsored by my local Bernina dealer!  On Friday evening we had a "Meet-and-Greet" event -- hors d'oeuvres, book signings, photo ops, and Alex shared a slide show presentation about how she came to be a quilter, with lots of photos of her quilts and a few photos and anecdotes about her family.  It was interesting to hear her story of how she got into quilting and teaching and how she became an internationally recognized author and television personality.  I enjoyed that. 

Quilt Basket Rendezvous in Batiks, Class Sample Made by Bernina Dealer's Staff

Then on Saturday morning we came back for an all-day workshop to make a 4-block version of Alex's Quilt Basket Rendezvous pattern, pictured above.  My Bernina dealer provided all of the machines for the class, and they assigned me a B 790 machine.  At first I was thrilled, since the allure of the brand-new Bernina model B 790 had been tempting me to trade in my B 750.  Unfortunately, my dealer did not bring the FHS (Free-Hand System)  Presser Foot Lifter bar for any of the student machines.  And one of the quirks about all of the 7 Series Berninas is that they do not have a manual presser foot lift behind the presser foot, because that's where the Dual Feed mechanism is housed -- so without the FHS bar, the only way to raise and lower the presser foot on these machines is to press a button awkwardly located on the front of the sewing machine: 

I know that Alex was blindsided by this, too, because she had a slide about FHS in her presentation and she was telling us how much we were all going to love using it for machine applique. 

Now, when I'm piecing on my vintage Singer Featherweights, of course I don't have a FHS bar to lift the presser foot, so why was it such a big deal that I didn't have FHS on the Bernina 790 I was using for the workshop?  With a mechanical sewing machine (as well as with many electronic and computerized models), I still have a great deal of control because the manual presser foot lever is located right behind the foot, within easy reach of your left or right hand.  I get my fabric in position, lower the presser foot, and then I can make small adjustments by just barely raising the presser foot with my left hand.  Once everything is perfectly aligned for that 1/4" seam, the presser foot clamps the fabric firmly in place as I step on the gas pedal to sew. 


Bernina FHS (Free-Hand System)
On my B 750 QE sewing machine at home, I have even more control because I can keep BOTH hands on my fabric the whole time, using the FHS bar to raise the presser foot just slightly, all the way up, or anywhere in between, controlling all of this with slight pressure from my right knee.  And this is exactly how I would do it if I owned a B 790, because the FHS does come standard with that machine.  But with the B 790 and NO FHS, I had to position my fabric, then have to take my RIGHT hand completely away to press the button on the front of the machine, and then find that my fabric had shifted ever so slightly out of position.  Again.  And again.  Ad infinitum.  Ugh!  To make matters worse, the hover feature was turned on for the first half of the workshop so that the presser foot would not even go down all the way to secure the fabric until the machine started sewing.  My 750 also has a hover option, but I have never understood that feature, never practiced working with it, and I turned it off in my machine settings the very fist time I used my 750.  In class, I couldn't figure out which sub menu in the 790 machine's settings folder would allow me to turn off the hover feature right away.  So I'm trying to line up and position my fabric pieces, trying to line the raw edges up with a foot that is "hovering" up in the air instead of touching the fabric, then I take my hand away to hit the button and lower the presser foot but the presser foot STILL won't come all the way down until I start sewing, and meanwhile everything is sliding all over the place and every seam is starting out crooked.  It was so frustrating that I couldn't even appreciate any of the slick bells and whistles on the machine -- I couldn't sew a straight, accurate seam allowance to save my soul and I just longed for my own 750 with her shiny FHS bar!  [EDITED 8/8/2015: One of my readers, a 710 owner, was kind enough to tell me in the Comments section that I could have used slight pressure on my foot pedal to bring down the presser foot when using the hover feature on the 790.  I wish I had known that in class!  Thanks, Katie!

So, the fancy new B 790 machine and I did not get along.  This is most likely due entirely to the missing FHS (which is a standard accessory on ALL 7 Series machines) and the missing cloth guide (which is included with all #97 and #97D Patchwork feet) rather than any deficit of the machine itself.  Also, I've never taken a class where I used someone else's sewing machine before and I probably am just more comfortable using my own equipment, even if it is a pain in the tushy to have to pack up a large sewing machine and schlepp it off to class with me.


Bernina Patchwork Foot #97D With Guide

Although all of the classroom machines were fitted with straight stitch plates and #97D Patchwork feet for piecing, for some reason they did not to give any of us the guide piece that comes with the foot, which is supposed to screw into the bed of the machine.  And that guide piece is my favorite piece of the precision piecing puzzle, because -- as Alex said in class -- if you wait until the edge of your fabric gets to the edge of your presser foot to make sure it's lined up perfectly, you're already too late.  This metal guide screws right into the bed of the sewing machine, is impervious to movement from the machine's vibration, and is infinitely adjustable to ensure an EXACT 1/4", scant 1/4", or whatever seam allowance you're trying to achieve.  If your guide is screwed down in the right position and your fabric is touching the metal guide from the edge closest to you, then sewing a precisely accurate 1/4" seam is virtually goof-proof.

Piecing with Patchwork Foot #97D, WITH the Guide, on my B 750 QE
The Bernina guide is almost identical to the vintage Singer Cloth Guide accessory that I use for piecing on my Featherweights, except that the Bernina guide has a cutout at the back for the 9 mm feed dog.  I have tried all the gimmicks, tricks, and gizmos out there for achieving a perfect seam allowance for quilting, and my favorite and most reliable method is using a screw-down guide like this one, adjusted until my pieced units come out measuring exactly the size they should be and then guaranteeing that every subsequent seam allowance comes out exactly the same width as the first one.


Back to the workshop itself...  Well, it was project-oriented, with everyone making the same Basket quilt, and there was a mandatory fabric kit that we all had to pay about $100 for above and beyond the price of the class.  Yuck, and more yuck, as far as I'm concerned, but I knew all of this up front and I decided to sign up for the class anyway because -- ALEX ANDERSON!  But I should probably never take a class with a kit again.  I'm an interior designer, for crying out loud -- I design textiles and pick out coordinating fabrics for a living.  The design stage of any quilt is my favorite part of the whole process. 



Boring Mandatory Batik Kit

Compare my all-batik fabric kit, above, with the bold, vibrant prints that Alex combined in her original version of this quilt, below:


Alex's Quilt Basket Rendezvous Using Kaffe Fassett Prints


My Precut Kit Triangles
What's more, the blocks we were working on in class had all been precut the night before by the Bernina dealer's staff, frantically working late into the night because they had under anticipated how many pieces needed cutting.  Bless their hearts, I feel for them, but those were not ideal conditions for cutting accuracy.  My precut block pieces were unstarched, slightly off grain, and not particularly accurate.  Note the cut-off triangle points in the photo at left.  The triangle points aren't really cut off.  What happened is that they hurriedly cut squares, lay a ruler corner to corner diagonally, and then sliced the squares into triangles with a rotary cutter.  But on most of my triangles, the ruler was not lined up precisely from corner to corner when they made the cut, so some triangles were about 1/16" to 1/32" too big, the others were too small, and they were not perfect right triangles.  That meant that no matter how accurate my seam allowances were, even if I wasn't working on an unfamiliar sewing machine, the odds were already stacked against my achieving accurately pieced blocks with perfect points.  The dealer's staff also helpfully wrapped masking tape labels around the precut triangles so they could label them for us, a well-intentioned thought that really helped with laying out the block pieces, but it was very difficult to remove the tape without it ripping away threads and distorting the bias triangle edges. 

So, disclaimer here -- I have some serious perfectionist tendencies, if you haven't noticed, and that is one of the reasons I enjoy quilting.  Perfectionism may be a waste of time in other pursuits, like when you are cooking, for instance.  The stew is not going to taste better just because I managed to dice my potatoes and onions into EXACT 1/2" cubes, or because all of my carrot slices measure precisely 3/4" and are cut at a perfect 45 degree angle.  But in quilting, the extra time you invest in precision pays off big time.  Inaccurate cutting and "good enough" piecing creates a road block for quilters because there comes a point when those tiny errors add up until you eventually hit a brick wall and certain blocks are just "too difficult" for you.  So when I am doing my own projects at home, I take the time to straighten and starch my fabrics, cut them as close to perfectly on-grain and as accurately as I possibly can, and then I measure throughout the piecing of every block to ensure that my units and finished blocks come out exactly the size they need to be, without any triangle points cut off or floating where they don't belong.  Call me a control freak; I don't care.  If a quilt is worth the hundreds of hours I invest in making it, it's worth it to me to do it right and end up with something I can be proud of.
 

So with all of these factors driving me crazy (including a defective travel iron that I bought the night before especially for the workshop), this is all I managed to accomplish by lunch time:


My Meager Accomplishments Midway Through the Workshop


 By about 2 PM, I had all four baskets sewn together and I managed to have three of them meet my personal standards of acceptability, but the fourth basket was irredeemable:


Rejected Basket!
I took that apart and resewed it at least four times, trying to compensate for the inaccurately cut, misshapen triangles in my kit, and I could not correct for the size of the tiny triangles without putting the outer corner of the block seriously out of whack, as you see above.  Remember what I said about perfectionism paying off in quilting?  The smaller the fabric pieces you are working with, the more crucial it is not only to sew them together with an accurate seam allowance but also to cut them out accurately to size in the first place!  There's no salvaging this block without recutting some of the pieces, and I just am not excited enough about making this particular quilt in these particular fabrics to bother with doing that.  I've still got my paper pieced pineapple log cabin that I'm working on, the Math is Beautiful quilt that was based on my son Lars's math notebook doodling, my Bear Paw project, the Jingle applique BOM, and my needleturned applique FrankenWhiggesh Rose quilt AND my skirt project to keep me busy.  Not to mention the Dear Jane quilt that I'm itching to start.

Three Decent Baskets
After I got home from the workshop, I decided that it would be silly to force myself to finish this class project.  I sliced off 1 1/2" strips of some of the blue and green kit fabrics so I can incorporate them into my pineapple log cabin quilt, and then I packed the rest of it away into my stash.  I put the basket units in my Rejects pile, destined most likely for free-motion quilting practice or warmup quilting (prior to quilting my actual quilts).  And I feel good about that.

I understand why Alex required the dealer to supply kits for the class.  Even if there had been a supply list and instructions for what to have cut out and ready to go ahead of time, there are always going to be a handful of people who would show up having made cutting errors, or who neglected to do ANY of their cutting beforehand, and they would hold up the whole class. 

Despite my difficulties, I'm really glad that I attended the workshop.  As I've said, my two primary objectives were to meet Alex Anderson and to spend some time sewing on the Bernina 790 sewing machine.  I got to do both of those things.  Alex was great, and although I didn't bond with the 790 machine I was really glad that I got to sew on it in a workshop for 5 hours and find out I didn't like it instead of paying thousands of dollars to upgrade, get the machine home, and THEN discover I didn't like it any better than the machine I already have.  Finding out that I prefer the machine I already own was well worth what I spent for the workshop and the fabric kit.  Although I was disappointed that my kit was not cut out as carefully as I would have done for myself, I also realize that most normal quilters would have been fine with the kits -- and unless the kits were die cut, it would have taken so much longer to cut them "my way" that they would have had to charge three times the cost for each kit!  I am well aware and very appreciative of the great deal of effort that my dealer and his staff exerted in order to pull off this event, going out of their way in so many ways to make all of us feel welcome and comfortable, cutting and assembling the kits and trying to make everything as clear and streamlined as possible for us.  They gave me the machine that I requested to sew on, and situated me right up at the front of the room as I had requested, as well.  They had name tags for everyone, rented an excellent facility for the event, and had plenty of staff on hand to help with machine issues (like helping me turn off the bleeping hover feature) so that we could concentrate on our projects.  We had wonderful lunches from McAlister's Deli, and although I didn't know any of the other students at the start of the class and I was the youngest person there by several decades, everyone was very welcoming and inclusive towards me.  Some nice ladies from Rock Hill, South Carolina invited me to eat lunch with me and encouraged me to come to one of their guild meetings.  And I just might take them up on it!

And now, back to my pineapples!

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