So. I have finished the memory quilt top. No, not the whole quilt. Just the top! It has evolved a little, as it’s gone along – although to be honest, by my usual standards it’s remained fairly true to the original idea.
This quilt is half rectangle triangles. Or isosceles triangles, as the more mathematically minded amongst you will call them. Why does this matter? Well, it doesn’t particularly, except that an isosceles triangle cut on the grain of the fabric will have its longest side on the bias. Which means you’re more likely to pull, stretch and distort it in the stitching. Really, in order to sew two isosceles triangles into a perfect rectangle, you are best not to guide the fabric *at all* as it goes under the needle.
Anyway, above and right are pictures of the finished top. I have to say, I’m really pleased with it. There wasn’t enough fabric to have made it all rectangles, and that would have been far too busy. So I found some lovely lemon print fabric for the inbetween stripes. It works well – the colours play gently with the rest of the quilt: it calms it down; allows the prints to sing; and hangs onto the nostalgic vibe I was trying to capture. Most importantly, Buto likes it. I haven’t actually stitched her into the quilt – she is fascinated by sewing and sits and watches closely as I pass things through the machine. She insists on helping arrange blocks, by batting them up and down the bed, and examines every edge and corner closely at all stages. This one passes her test!
One of my lovely Twitter friends commented that it had gone together quickly, and it has – no more than about 3 days work, in fits and starts. I didn’t start it until 31st December, and it was finished on 7th January. In between times, I’ve gone back to work, fettled around with kids and friends, and generally got on with other stuff too.
It went so quickly because I used a technique called Stack ‘n’ Whack. This is essentially a production line approach to piecing. First, you pile up your fabrics, ensuring you’ve aligned selvedge edges, so you can be sure that they are all on the grain. This is easiest to do on a cutting mat with a ruler grid printed on it. I had made a plastic template for my triangles, but the plastic was only thin, so I simply used the template to line up my cutting ruler, rather than actually to cut round. (Actually, that’s not strictly true. I did cut round it for the first few goes, but it wasn’t strong enough to withstand the rotary cutter’s blade and as I didn’t have a spare blade, I didn’t want to blunt the only one I had. So I lined up the proper ruler…)
I had 8 different fabrics in this pile, and once I’d flick-flacked the template over two or three times, I had a goodly pile of ‘neutral’ triangles to form the base of my rectangles. That’s when it’s time to go to work with the pretty patterned fabrics…
So again, here you’re just lining up your fabrics. Remember, these were scrap strips of different lengths and widths, so it’s not as neat as the bigger pieces of the neutral fabric, and on some of these fabrics I’m forced to use the unprinted selvedge in order to get a big enough triangle out of the fabric I have. Note how I’ve used the grid printed on the cutting mat to make sure my fabrics are ‘square’. That way, I know I’m cutting on the grain.
Just pile the fabrics on top of each other, making sure they all line up at the end you’re going to start cutting from, and not worrying if the far end doesn’t line up. You’re not bothered with that, at all.
Next, overlay your template.
Butt your ruler up to the template… and cut! I couldn’t take photos of cutting, on account of needing two hands to cut and another to take the photo. But if you’re using a rotary cutter (and you really need to for this method), hold the ruler down firmly with one hand and press the rotary cutter hard into the fabric (to make sure you get through all layers) and roll it along the ruler’s edge. Two golden rules: 1) MIND YOUR FINGERS and 2) when you’ve finished cutting, retract the rotary blade to its safety position.
To sew the rectangles, simply pick up the top triangle, and lay its long edge face down over the long edge of the bottom triangle, exactly as they lie in their piles. So now you have two triangles, right sides together, each with its pointy end at the other’s blunt end.
Using a 1/4″ presser foot, put the fabric under your needle, and lower the presser foot. Lower the needle into the fabric. Slowly sew the seam, guiding it gently through the needle with your hand, but being careful not to pull against the needle and feed dogs, or there is a real danger that you’ll distort the seam – remember that you’re sewing on the bias, where the fabric is most flexible (and most vulnerable).
So keep your pace steady – slow enough that you can see what you’re doing and be in control – and your touch light!
When you reach the end of the seam, do *not* move the fabric. Leave the presser foot and needle down.
Prepare your next rectangle to be sewn, in exactly the same way as before.
This is simply another view of the photo above: if you click on the image to enlarge it, you can see that the needle is all the way down.
With the first rectangle still in the machine, gently insert the tip of the second rectangle seam under the presser foot. Be careful not to overlap the two; you do want a *little* bit of space between them. But not much.
Carefully and gently insert the new seam under the presser foot, and begin to sew – remember, keep your pace steady – slow enough that you can see what you’re doing and be in control – and your touch light!
Try not to guide the fabric too much – if your pace is steady and slow, the feed dogs should feed it under the needle in a straight line and you need not exert much more pressure than a watchful eye…
Keep going like this, feeding one rectangle after another into your machine. You’ll amass a satisfying little pile of stitched rectangles on the table behind your needle. You can keep going until you run out of fabric, or run out of space, or run out of coffee, or run out of patience. Whatever your stopping point, when you’ve finished, you’ll have a happy little bunting of folded-in-half, stitched-up rectangles, joined by short runs of thread.
Pile your rectangles up, and cut their joining threads. Give them back their individuality. No, that’s getting silly. But you don’t want a spiderweb of joining thread, so simply snip your rectangles apart.
Now you’re going to press your seams. I’m not a huge fan of ironing. It rarely happens to my clothes. But I promise you, 9/10 of a good sewing project is in the cutting and the pressing. Very little of it is how well you actually sew. So press your seams. It makes your work look professional, and only you will know about the mistakes, then! In patchwork, we don’t press seams open like you do in dress-making. To one side or the other… They’re much smaller than a dress maker’s seam, and this makes your work more durable.
Once they’re pressed, you want to trim them. The finished piece will work much better if all the rectangles are the same size. I came unstuck at this point, because my printed fabrics were not of an even width to start with, if you remember, but even so I was going for as close as possible to 5 1/2″ x 2 1/2 “, which would give me a finished 5″ x 2” rectangle.
And here it is. Stitched, pressed, and trimmed. And because you’ve stacked, whacked and chain pieced them, you’ve done about 40 in the time it would take you to do 5 if you cut, stitched, pressed and trimmed them individually.