Every now and again, I like to do a project that is simply following instructions. No math, no design, no over thinking, just hardcore focus on learning new techniques and honing old ones. I’m so glad that people take the time to put these projects out there – even when they are getting paid for it. I know how much work it is! This particular project caught my eye because it deal with lines, curves, and circles, something I really struggle with.
Here is the original quilt by designer Mabeth Oxenreider from American Patchwork and Quilting magazine:
Nice right? Is much bigger than something I would want to do as a practice and study project. Lucky for me, the magazine has a color variation (which is also a size variation) on their website:
|Polka Dot Palooza by Laura Boehnke|
Here’s what it looks like when I tried it:
Total time: 12.5 hours
Here’s how it came together.
I started where anyone would – step 1. Choosing fabrics. Such a hard step sometimes. I really wanted something to go with my new bathroom and tried my hardest to find a set of fabrics that would go. I went to two quilt shops and spent who knows how long on web sites looking looking and more looking. I just couldn’t find them in the combination I thought I wanted. I decided then to just go to the big box store with big box coupon and find a fabric I liked and go with it. I came across a mustache fabric that I knew my kid would love and decided to go from there.
My next thought was to go black, white and yellow, but I came across the red fabric there and loved it next to the mustache. So black white and red it is. Once I had those, I came home and raided my quarter stash. I have a bad habit of picking up piles of them when they are $1.29 or less then not using them because they will be gone – weird right? I didnt any have any that had combinations of black white and red, but I had plenty that fit in the palette.
Total Time Fabric Shopping without failed trips: 1 hour.
With the fabric acquired, the next step is to cut them. The instructions say to cut them IN THIS ORDER. I’m not really sure what order has to do with it, but figured what the heck. I’ll cut them in that order. I started with the strips for the centers of the circles. I quickly discovered I had much more fabric in the darker values than in the lighter ones. To combat that, I cut more of the lighter ones and less each of the darker ones. I think I’ll find that didnt leave me with enough red and will have to make a few more cuts later.
I cut my big squares and borders next. I decided to hold on the binding strips, I’m not sure I want to use the matching mustache fabric yet. I may want to put more of the red on outside. I’ll make that decision when things come together a bit more. I laid out my pieces to get an idea of where I was headed and make sure I didnt want to make any changes.
Looking good! I far prefer the solid color squares. I think the polka dots in the example is just a little bit too much for me. I’m happy with where I’m at and moving on.
Total Time cutting: 2 hours
Step 3: Curved Circle Centers
Yeeeee! Curves! This is the part I was looking forward to most. I really wanted to see how these things came together. I’ve got lots of ideas for curves, but never really occurred to me to try it. I can’t tell a lie – my first attempt was a total failure.
I’m pretty sure the real problem here was attempting something new with a 100+ degree temperature. I was so determined that cold wasn’t going to get me down, then I totally mucked up my strips! After much rest and plenty of fluids, I tried again to success! Here’s how they come together (thank youtube for helping me out on this one!)
I found a few things to be problematic for me. One – I made roughly the same line every cut. I had to really think about the cut I was going to make before I made it. Two – I found it hard to both make the right cut and sew together the pieces when I couldn’t always see where the bottom fabric was. Three – I kept stretching the fabric over the curves without realizing I was doing it. There were a few cases I stretched it enough, I could use the curve of the stretched fabric to create the next curve. Fourth (and last) it was really hard to watch my seam allowance paying so much attention to other things. The good news – all of them seemed to get better with practice and my first block of strips came out OK.
I was careful to try and balance the values. Never placing two really dark values next to one another. I also found the red popped really well when it wasn’t that close to another red. The only two fabrics that appear in every square are the white dots and gray flowers, otherwise, I tried to limit each fabric to appearing in only four squares.
The first one took roughly 30 frustrating minutes. The last one only 15 minutes and was a much cleaner job. This is certainly one of those techniques that gets better when you practice a bit and start to understand how the curves come together.
Total Time for Centers: 2.5 hours
Step 4: Reverse Applique Blocks
The next step is to make the big blocks with holes in the center. The instructions call for a “light-weight tearaway stabilizer”. I’m sure that is code word for a particular product, but I havent been around long enough to know which one. I didnt have any more money in the budget for this project, so I had to use what was on hand which is the pellon bolted tearaway. I dont know what makes a stabilizer “lightweight”, but suspect the one I have isn’t. Anyway… I started by tracing the pattern onto the stabilizer and centering it on the block.
I sewed a line with a straight stitch around the circle shape. I then cut out the center of the circle within 1/4 inch of the seam. It isnt in the picture, but I also clipped into the seam allowance for when the stabilizer flipped on to the other side.
I found the next part really difficult at first. I was concerned about tearing the stabilizer so I didnt want to just rip it through to the other side. Turns out I didnt have enough hands either. I could have really benefited from at least one more! I finally got it and took a look at my handy work.
Total time cutting and turning centers: 1.5 hours
Step 5: Assemble the center
Before I started sewing anything else, I laid out my parts and tried different layouts of the centers. I really thought I wanted them horizontal or vertical, but quickly discovered the center patterns werent quite right for that. I settled on making it very much like the sample with alternating diagonals.
After settling on the placement, I used a clear thread and zigzag stitch around each circle taking down the folded edges of the reverse applique.
Total time to applique centers: 1 hour
Step 6: Reverse applique the small circles
I put together the six large squares and continued on with the pattern. The next challenge was to make smaller circle windows for the points where the large squares meet. I found this to be the most frustrating step and I need a lot more practice to be good at it! It really matters how smooth and even the circle is sewn on to before cutting out the center and reversing it. I tried two of them (a center and a side) before patterning for all the others.
I wish I had some words of wisdom or excellent advice, but this part, I’m still unhappy with and would like a do-over!
Total time for small circles: 2 hours
Step 7: Add borders
This part is the easiest yet and probably my favorite. These two fabrics are the ones that inspired the color choices and I was really excited to see them be part of the hanging. Plus, it comes together fast and makes me feel like I’m doing stuff!
Total time for borders: 30 minutes
Step 8: Quilting and binding
Things were going so good! It was far from perfect, but I liked it none the less. Then I quilted it. I really wanted to not stress about it and just go for it. This is supposed to be a learning project right? I decided to go with a free motion design. I started in the middle and worked my way out. Sadly, lots of things went wrong. First of all, I really should have thought about my pattern a bit more, maybe even sketched it out. Second, I kept losing confidence and would end up getting timid. With the free motion – it shows! Can’t hold back for a second! Third, I tried the clear thread for the first time and it is not so easy to work with. I don’t think my machine loves it either. It seemed to pull in a funny way and made some sounds of pain as I was pushing around the quilt. Finally, the heavier stabilizer I used in lieu of spending extra money reared its ugly head and created weird bumps under the quilting. I may have ruined it, but I’m very happy with the experience. I learned a lot of new tricks and already have a project in mind for using them!