Monday, September 5, 2011

The Jelly Roll Quilt

When last we met the Jelly Roll quilt, she was still a jumble of fabric pieces, thrown together in a shoebox and stirred to maximum randomness. For a re-cap, please see my earlier post about quilting. Now she's done (and has been since late April), and I finally have time to give a thorough account of her creation.

The Jelly Roll in the Wild
The quilt came together nicely. First, of course, everything had to be cut. It's amazing how all that fabric looks like so little when arranged this way. It will become a queen-size quilt.

All the Quilt Pieces, Ready to Go
The quilt was essentially made from two different size pieces: 2" x 3" and 2" x 10". The blocks were all 10" squares set at 90 degrees to each other. I pieced a 2" inner-border out of leftover scraps and added a 4" outer border mostly to achieve the desired width (which needed to be substantial).

Assembled Strips of Five
First I created pairs of 2"x3" pieces, then assembled these into 5-piece strips. All the 2"x3" pieces were stored in a shoebox that I had shaken up. With each new pair I sewed, I'd blindly reach into the box and pull out two pieces. My goal was the keep it completely random and not let my preferences for certain fabrics (which I formed early on) lead me toward using those up first (or to cause me to save them all for last, either!). I also sought to avoid sewing similar prints together (some had an identical print, just in a different color; some had larger print motifs than others), and I tried to keep like colors apart, but this was harder. Also, in each strip, I tried not to have too much of one tone (light or dark) and I tried to keep similar tones from touching. The fabric collection I was using (Park Avenue), is about 1/3 dark tones and 2/3 light, so mainly it was a matter of not using all the dark in one place. I came to realize that a lot of work goes into giving the appearance of randomess!

Each 5-piece strip was then capped off with a 10" strip. The same strategies outlined above were used here. I tried to never have the same print of fabric across the top as I had in the pieces. Amazingly, I think I rarely failed in this, if at all. Notice the small pieced section in the bottom right. Despite my best efforts, I was short two 2"x3" pieces after all my cutting, so I pieced together a couple. I am actually pretty happy with the way it looks. The idea of hiding little Easter eggs like this inside my quilt appeals to me.

Half of a Completed Block

A Completed Block
A long seam between the two 10" strips yielded a 10" square. I still have to work on my seam allowance. Many of my squares fell far short of the 10" mark (some were 9 1/2!). When you have 5 pieces in a strip, seam allowances that are too wide add up quickly. 

One Long Strip of 10" Blocks
72 of these 10" blocks went into the top of the quilt. 8 of the 72 blocks were sewn into a long strip. This allowed the math of the next bit of quilt gymnastics to come out correctly. The remaining 64 blocks became 32 pairs of blocks, each block set at a 90 rotation with respect to the other. However, it turns out that not all 90 rotations are created equal, and I had to re-sew several pairs of blocks. Each pair of blocks was then paired again to create 16 super-blocks. Then, each super-block was paired yet again.

Pairs of Super-Blocks

By this point, I was storing the assembled blocks inside my closet on a pants hanger. In the picture above you can see pairs of super blocks (which contain 8 standard blocks). These were paired off again to create mega blocks. The pairing proceeded until I had just one giant 8-block x 8-block square, to which I added the 8-block strip to yield an 8-block x 9-block top! Please enjoy the diagram below:

Figure 1: Quilt Assembly Procedure and Order of Operations

An Intimate Look at my Piecing

Then I added the two borders. Don't look too closely at my outer-border. I wasn't very careful with the bias and it was pretty much impossible to measure it properly against the quilt top (with space at a premium, where was I going to lay this down to measure?). I'm not sure if it was too long or too short, but the result is a lot of puckering.

Basted Using Safety Pins
I got some help moving the living room furniture and basted the quilt using safety pins. Getting the three layers of a queen-size quilt (top, batting, backing) to lie flat and even simultaneously is very hard, especially if (like me) you really didn't fuss about having the backing be wide enough (again, measuring was not possible). Mine barely was, and I ended up having to cut some of my outer border off (so it's only 3 inches wide on one side!). I'm not the most responsible quilter ever. Craft mavens the world over are free to ostracize me. The thing still looks magnificent.

Then I quilted, and it was so much fun! This quilt is machine quilted, but I didn't follow any pattern. For one thing, that would have meant either designing a pattern or buying a stencil and then marking the quilt top and then having enough control to keep my stitches on the pattern I'd marked. Also, at my dad's suggestion, I decided not to have a pattern that was too close, so that the fabrics and their juxtaposition could still be the main attraction.

Instead of a pattern, I just free-stitched along every seam, but I didn't worry at all about straight lines. I just did swirls and waves and spirals, following a road map that allowed me to do minimal back-tracking (however, topologists who have studied the arrangement of the pieces will understand why backtracking was utterly unavoidable).

The preceding pictures are just an example of what the entire quilt looks like. I got better and better as I learned control. In free-quilting a darning needle is used and the feed-dogs are down, so the sewer is in complete control (or not!) of stitch length and speed. My patterns got to be more interesting-looking towards the end, but there were some weird false-starts and ugly angles at the beginning. 

Around the border (which I did last!) I figured out how to do a motif of vines and leaves. At this point, I would have felt comfortable following a pattern, but I didn't feel like going out and buying a stencil.

Last but not least came the binding. This is bias-cut, double fold binding (the strongest way to bind a quilt). One side is sewn by machine, then it's folded over and blind-stitched to the back. At this point, I began using the quilt as my actual bedspread, since attaching the binding secures the entire quilt (even though I didn't complete the blind stitching until another couple of months later). 

A few miscellaneous facts:

I started this just after Christmas. The piecing took about a month working a couple of hours every night (my back and eyes wouldn't allow for more). The quilting took another couple of weeks. Sewing down the binding took about a month and a half with only intermittent work (since there was no hurry at that point).

The quilt is for a queen size bed but it has a generous drop on both sides since I have a thick mattress and I don't use a dust ruffle. There's also extra length for a "pillow tuck." All told, it's about 100" on each side, though I never did do final measurements, and I have since washed it and it shrank slightly.

Quilt Easter Egg!
Earlier I mentioned Easter eggs in my quilt. Here's one! The red rectangle is actually a fabric from my first quilt (the sampler). Luckily, the colors match nicely, but even if they didn't I would have done this. From now on, I'm going to try to use one piece of fabric from the previous quilt in the next. Perhaps I'll be able to use fabric from several previous quilts! In anticipation of this, I've already saved the piece that would have gone where this red rectangle is. It's waiting its chance to be in my next quilt...

Anna's Quilt.

Anna Bender (neè Farrow) was my great-great grandmother, whom I alluded to in my first quilting post. Thanks to my aunt Heidi, I am now in possession of some fabric pieces and a partially-sewn quilt top that were once hers (we think). Her project was originally a Double Wedding Ring pattern using a complete mish-mash of fabrics. I estimate there are several dozen different kinds of fabric being used in this quilt.

Double Wedding Ring

Some Completed Piecing Found Among the Scraps

A Wide Array of Fabrics, Ready to be Sewn
I have a bag full of these little wedge-shaped pieces. Now I need to find lavender and white muslins to round out the materials necessary to complete the job. My grandmother says not to worry too much about matching the color exactly. No matter how hard I try, it will be obvious that some blocks were completed much earlier than the others. Rather, I will try to showcase Anna's original work by constructing my own around hers. I love picking through the little pieces to discover the variety of colors and patterns represented. These fabrics are probably from the 30's and 40's, judging by the colors, print size and motifs. Currently, this era is having a resurgence of popularity among quilters and several companies have come out with fabric lines that mimic this vintage. I am delighted to have some actual decades-old fabric to work with. I can't wait to start!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

How to Make a Quilt

After a long and fruitful conversation about quilts with my Aunt Heidi last night, I decided to post some pictures of my creations so that she and everyone else might see my handiwork. The longer I work on this, the more I consider myself a "Quilter," but I know I still have a long way to go before I become Accomplished at this art. Heidi says that my great-grandmother (her grandmother), whom we called Boodie, always wished she'd taken up quilting, and had stored away yards and yards of scraps in anticipation of that goal, but it never got used. Also, her mother, my great-great grandmother, was an excellent quilter and some of her work is left unfinished, never to be taken up by Boodie, though still kept ready to go in those boxes as well. My desire to learn quilting is fueled by an intense admiration of all the craft work Boodie did do, once upon a time, and a desire to emulate the cozy beds at her house with their hodge podge of sheet sets and scrappy quilts (which I now know were made by my great-great grandmother!).

First Quilt
My first quilt ever began with a quilting class at Santa Barbara City College. Little did I know then that our instructor was having us design our quilts in pretty much the most expensive way possible (short of buying Egyptian Cotton 1000 thread-count fabric!), but the results are nothing to sneeze at and the the techniques I learned are the true value.

The six blocks of my quilt.

We made "sampler quilts." A sampler quilts feature a variety of different traditional quilt blocks, and are unified by the repeating colors in each block. My colors are red and gold, which are derived from the "Focus Fabric," and are in turn used in each block and in the border of the quilt (see below). Each block also has a "background fabric" (in this case, it's off-white) that also serves as a unifying element. I had seen quilts that didn't use a background fabric, and I thought they weren't as pretty as those that did.

Here are the blocks with borders added and the setting in process of being attached.

I ended up adding dark brown borders around each block because the fabric for the setting was so busy that it muddled the colors and patterns of the blocks themselves. It's funny how that works out. You never know until you see it laid out and ready to go.

This is the assembled quilt top. Note the three reds (a dark, medium and light) and three golds (a dark, medium and light). In putting together the quilt top, I took care to arrange the blocks so that no one block or pair of blocks is constantly drawing the viewer's attention. Notice that two blocks have an octagon shape in them. These have deliberately been placed separate from each other. The same goes for the two blocks that have heavy amounts of pink. Finally, I placed my two favorite blocks in the middle row, because I love them.

My two favorite blocks, traditionally called "Rosebud" and "Cat's Cradle"

Fast forward a year later. Here I have laid out the "quilt sandwich": backing, batting and top.

First it is pinned.

Then it is basted with long, running stitches.

Then I hand quilted it. No need to shudder or cringe on my behalf; I quite enjoyed it and became pretty adept at making those close, tiny stitches that are the mark of good quilting (see below). This part took me about a month and a half, working a few hours every day while watching The Wire on DVD. I developed a tough little callous on my left index finger from catching the needle as it came through the quilt thousands of times. Certainly a mark of pride, for me.

Here is the back of the quilt, now finished. My quilting pattern was to just "stitch in the ditch" as they say. Rather than attempt anything more complex, my quilting lines just follow along right next to the seams between pieces of the quilt top. This is simpler and faster than curvy designs and I like the effect on the back, which now carries an echo, or perhaps a shadow, of the pieced design on the front of the quilt.

Here are my quilting stitches up close. According to my quilting book, an average quilter can do 6 stitches per inch, an "Accomplished" quilter can do 8, and a "microquilter" can do 14! After weeks and weeks of practice, I was doing between 6-8 stitches per inch. Evenness of stitches is more important than how close-packed they are, though.

Quilting has ruined store-bought quilts for me. Now I examine bedspread quilts in places like Pottery Barn and Bed, Bath and Beyond, and I am aghast and appalled. Many of these quilts, which they have the gall to charge over $100 for sometimes, have "quilting" stitches that are half an inch long and spaced 3 or 4 inches apart. It looks like they forgot to take out their basting! This is a travesty on the art of quilting.

Second Quilt
My second quilt is a "jelly roll" quilt, meaning that most of my fabric will come from two "jelly rolls," which is the trademarked term that the Moda fabric company gives to bundles of fabric strips. Each jelly roll has about 40 strips, each 44-inches long (the width of most fabric yardage) and 2 1/2 inches wide. A jelly roll usually contains one strip from each kind of fabric in a given line. My jelly rolls are from the "Park Avenue" line, and they were on sale.

A jelly roll in the wild

Alas, two jelly rolls is not quite enough fabric for the quilt I want (queen-sized bedspread with generous drop and pillow tuck: 96 x 102 inches!). So I collected a few more quarter-yards of fabric, which you can see folded up below.

All the fabric for my quilt top (save the border)

Fabric close-up

My design is intended to give the appearance of random piecey-ness to my quilt top while still being simple and fast to cut and piece. Only two size pieces will be used: 3 x 2 inches and 10 x 2 inches.

Cutting a 3 x 2 inch piece (they're actually 3.5 x 2.5 so there can be a 1/4-inch seam allowance)

Here is all the fabric for the top of my quilt

This is 720 3.5" x 2.5" pieces, 144 10.5" x 2.5" strips, and 270 2.5" x 2.5" squares (for a pieced inner-border). It will yield 72 10 x 10 inch squares. So far so good! I'm in the middle of sewing together the 3 x 2 inch pieces. My wonderful housemate has a sewing machine that she neglects terribly and so is happy to let me use it.

For an idea of what this quilt will look like finished, check out this artist's Etsy listing for her own jelly roll quilt. Notice the lines of shorter pieces separated by longer strips. My quilt will be much larger than this one.

Monday, August 23, 2010

We Do Still Live in America, Right?

Click this text to read a news article about opposition to mosques that aren't near Ground Zero.

This makes me so many different kinds of sick. In this day and age, I should not have to make an accounting of all the reasons how this goes against everything this country is actually about. So I won’t. And, further, I don’t know if it’s more troubling or more comforting to remember that this kind of xenophobia has existed since the founding of our country anyway (anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-Mormon).

Then there was the polite yet firm debate I had with my wishes-she-were-as-liberal-as-she-thinks-she-is grandmother yesterday. It was spurred by her “innocent” mention of some controversy over a young Muslim woman who was told she couldn’t wear her “burqa” while working at Disneyland (she used the word burqa, which is telling, because the young lady in question doesn’t wear a burqa, she wears a hijab) Her rhetorical question: “Why do Muslim women insist on coming here and wearing those awful robes that are so obviously foreign and “un-American” when they know it’s not what we do here.” (Subtext: …because it makes me uncomfortable). My left leg was bouncing pretty frantically as I tried to phrase my responses as diplomatically and calmly as possible, but it’s hard to be diplomatic when the other participant in your conversation doesn’t admit that she’s actually saying what she’s actually saying.

Me: “So you think people who come here should conform to our styles of dress. Is conformity an American value?”

Grandma: “No, I didn’t say they have to conform. They just should realize that when they come here they should behave like Americans. They shouldn’t wave their flag around and refuse to give up the customs of their home country.”

My non-rhetorical response to her original question: “They come here and dress that way because it’s part of how they practice their religion, and we told them that they may freely practice their religion here. It just so happens that this particular Islamic dictum has a very obvious physical presence. We don’t tell Christians they can’t build their churches with giant crosses on top that can be seen for miles around, do we?”

Her argument boils down to: This behavior (wearing a hijab, niqab etc) makes me uncomfortable, so the other person should stop it. Never mind that this behavior has absolutely no direct effect on her and it in no way threatening, dangerous, manipulative, or coercive, it’s just so “in her face.” This is plainly ludicrous. I hope she comes to realize it someday. It’s hard to teach an old grandmother new tricks, and she’s got some pretty ingrained habits to break. I wish her luck with that.

And I hope this country can get its head out of its ass.

The Most Isolated Man in the World

This article is cool. It also presents an interesting ethical dilemma, which my linguist friends especially will appreciate. This man is the last living member of his tribe, his people, his culture. He is the final repository of all their history, traditions, folklore and language, and he has no one to share any of it with. The Brazilian government has taken the most humane course of action, one that must have involved some will power, by pointedly not disturbing him, and allowing him to be the initiator of any contact. And yet, when he finally dies, he will take with him all the cultural knowledge he has. That strikes me as extremely tragic, and something to be avoided. Except that I don't believe we have a duty to preserve this information at the expense of destroying this man's way of life (observer's paradox extraordinary), even though it would be another addition to the Library of Human Experience. But that's just the problem: we wouldn't be doing it for him. There is no one in the world who can use his knowledge beyond him, so gathering it would be purely to make ourselves feel more like the Lords of the Universe we perceive ourselves to be. We can sit in our leather chairs and gaze lovingly at the handsomely bound volume on the shelf, but to forever taint the nature of this man's world would be nothing beyond selfish.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What My Students are Watching

Another beautiful week in Idyllwild, and that means another video for you all to watch. This video is just so much fun! We show this clip in animation class after working on walk and run cycles, which are tricky but essential in character development. These bunnies have a run cycle as well, with each position represented by a different model. This is discussed in the “Making Of” segment of the video. They also talk about designing the characters (bunnies) before ever animating them. In our class, we strongly encourage the students to model their characters and their movements, because a well-executed animation depends on this solid foundation.

We're having a great class this year. There are only six students, and they are thriving under our less-diluted attention. Their work is wonderful! There's a crying banana that just makes me want to rip my heart out and a trampoline in another clip that looks too fun to not be real. I hope I can figure out some way to post a few examples online.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How to Do Stuff: Cooking Lavender Creme Brulee

This is part 3 in (what has become) my occasional series, "How to do Stuff," (part 1 being "How to Spend a Year in Australia" and part 2 being "How to Replace a Broken Car Window"). Today's installment: Lavender Creme Brulee!

I got to taste this astoundingly delicious concoction at a friend's wedding in June, and when the opportunity arose a couple of weeks ago to actually make creme brulee (my first time), I insisted that it be with lavender, just for kicks. Here's what you need:

  • Just over 1 quart of heavy whipping cream (40% if you can get it)
  • The yolks of 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 packet of vanilla sugar
  • A whole mess of lavender (I had a mixing bowl full of it)
Step 1: Soak the lavender in the cream for a couple hours, at room temperature. This step is done to taste, but remember that the baking process will further enhance the flavor. Once you can taste the lavender in the cream, you're good. I helped the process along by squishing up the lavender a bit with a potato masher, because I was worried there wouldn't be enough flavor. The bonus I got for my squishing efforts was the little pieces of lavender floating in the cream afterwards, which was just adorable, so I left them in.

Step 2: Separate the yolks from 6 eggs, again at room temperature. There is no picture of this. This was my first time separating eggs, so it was a little scary. My word of advice: be careful not the let the yolk get punctured by the sharp edges of the shell. Don't get too happy with the flipping back and forth, this will lead to yolk breakage. Ack!

Step 3: Cream the yolks and all the sugar in a mixing bowl. Use and electric mixer and blend and blend and blend. Do this until you can't see the individual grains of sugar any more. It will take more than 10 minutes, so be patient. The result will be super-fluffy and you will be pleased.

Step 4: Bring the lavender-infused cream to a boil, remove from heat, and let sit for 15 minutes. Doesn't "lavender-infused cream" just sound romantic and delicious? I feel like I work at some upscale restaurant, even though this all happened in my friend's kitchen.

Step 5: Combine the cream and eggs/sugar mixture slowly. Be sure to do this a little at a time while constantly stirring. We don't want the cream (which is still pretty warm) to cook the eggs at all, so it's important to keep the stuff moving.

Step 6: Fill your ramekins nearly to the top. This recipe filled up eight of these, which are about a pint each. So cute!

Step 7: Place the ramekins in a roasting pan filled with enough water to go halfway up the sides of the ramekins. This step allows the creme to bake evenly and not scorch on the edges.

Step 8: Bake for ~45 minutes, or until the cream is set, but still trembling in the middle.

Step 9: Remove from oven and chill in the fridge ~2 hours. This step is done when the custard at the center of the dishes is firm to the touch, but has about as much give as the flesh on the underside of your arm.

Step 10: Sprinkle each ramekin with a light dusting of sugar (baking sugar works best) and melt it with a torch. This step can be repeated if you like a really thick brulee crust (like I do!). I used raw cane sugar for this step, which tended to burn before it even melted. It smelled like marshmallows.

Step 11: Enjoy! You're ready to eat as soon as the melted sugar on top hardens. Break out your teaspoon and get cracking! Ahh, this reminds me of one of my favorite movies: Amelie.

My taste-testers said they found the lavender flavor too strong, though I liked it. Evidently, lavender is a mild anesthetic, and eventually it will numb your taste-buds. The first bite is still fantastic, though! I will infuse the cream a little less next time. My next attempt at flavor-infused creme brulee will be with roses, which sounds exciting. I'd also like to try clove and lemon.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What My Students Are Watching

I'm here in Idyllwild for the summer teaching computer animation to high-schoolers. My co-teacher and I like to show the kids animated clips to inspire them and as examples of how to employ the techniques we're teaching them. Over the course of the next few weeks, I'll post these here, too, so you can all enjoy them. We try to find fun, accessible stuff they'll enjoy. Today's installment is the first video we showed: "Robot Chicken Star Wars: George Lucas at the Convention." Though apparently crude, the folks who worked on this know what they're doing, and they have employed a barrage of classical animating techniques in a pretty sophisticated way. Watch the way George pulls back before dashing into his run. So Looney Tunes! More in a few days. Happy watching!