Patchwork Quilting Adventures

This is going to be a rather long post, thanks to continually choosing to start the next project instead of taking the time to make the post, so hang in there and get ready to scroll if beginner’s quilting journey is of any interest.

Patchwork quilting is something I haven’t done before. I did machine sewing as a teenager. Some of it was free motion embroidery on grandma’s old Bagat machine that could also run without electricity, by operating the mechanical pedal with both feet. That way of operating the machine (I am not sure what the proper name for those is) lends itself to more accurate speed control and is something I wish I had for free motion quilting. As the chance has it, my partner has bought us a vintage Pfaff 130-6 sewing machine from the 1950s, hoping to get into one of his interests, which is upholstery: car seat, shifter and dashboard recovering, and headliner sewing. Machine was catching dust for few years, I’ve used it a couple of times for small things, like sewing together pillowcase, or sewing and patching up a few things for my daughter. That all changed in the fall of ’21 when I began the quilting adventure.

As a first project, I decided to go with something small. Blanket for my daughter’s Barbie dolls seemed like a good idea to start with. But alas, the Barbies also needed a bed, so I designed and 3D printed them a bed as the first step. I used the foam sheet to make the mattress and wrapped it in white fabric. I then proceeded to make the pattern for the quilt in Photoshop. And then, the sewing finally began. It went pretty smooth, considering my unfamiliarity with the machine (at that point I didn’t even know how to back stitch, or disengage the machine when winding bobbins). I used the low loft poly batting, and most of the fabric came from my neighbor, who gave me a full bag of scraps she didn’t think she’d use. The 3D files for printing this bed are available on Thingiverse.

The next project was also pretty quick and simple – I made a zipper pouch for my man’s car keys. Since all of them are bimmer keys, the pouch had to reflect that. With this project, I’ve got a handle on two things I haven’t done before: sewing curved seams, and sewing zippers.

I had two pillow inserts laying around and wanted to make pillowcases. I wasn’t sure if I needed a batting or not, so for the first one I used the poly batting and quilted it, and the second one was patchwork on both sides without quilting. While quilting the first pillowcase, I got sewing machine to begin smoking! Yep, it got nervous so I offered it a stogy – actually, it was the knee pedal: the smoke started coming from there as it got really hot from continuous work. Nothing really burned out inside, but rather it got so hot that all the lint and dust just turned to smoke, it seems. I ordered an electronic pedal and it works great without getting hot, and now I can use both pedals, as they are both connected and ready to go.

I ran into English paper piecing method, and wanted to give it a try. I used simple hexagons drawn with the aid of kids shape template on cereal box for my paper pieces, used thread instead of glue for basting, and stitched it all together by hand. In the meantime, I obtained fusible fleece, which I then used instead of poly batting, and it resulted in much firmer, better defined shape. The only thing I’ve done with the machine was quilting and adding purple strip – even the zipper was sewn by hand. I must say I wasn’t too thrilled with this paper piecing method, because it involved so many steps – cutting paper pieces, cutting fabric, basting, and then stitching it together, all the while the paper hexagons were falling out.

There had to be a better, faster way to do this, I thought. I watched quite a few quilting videos on YT and got the notion that Y seam was a dreaded thing that quilters were trying to find ways to avoid, and I came to understand that it’s because the seam has to end before reaching the last quarter of an inch of seam allowance. Well, it could still be done on a machine, and the trick was to draw the seam lines on the back side of the fabric, and use the pins to align the seam, and then only stitch along the seam line and not to the end of the piece. To get some experience with this method, I 3D printed a diamond template and came up with yet another zipper pouch. I ended up ripping and resewing quite a few seams, since even though I would do my best to put the pins after carefully aligning the seam lines, there would still be some seams where the stitching was off the line, or the corners wouldn’t meet exactly.

But I haven’t sewn any clothes! My mother back in Serbia has stacks and stacks of sewing magazines such as German Burda and Italian Boutique, but those aren’t readily available in US. I was tempted to get the pattern making software like Wild Ginger’s, however I don’t really have the need for clothes to make it worthwhile. I ended up finding a Russian website dbortik.ru with free sewing patterns and instruction videos. I know enough Russian to follow along and understand the instructions, so that was a great aid while making these pants for my girl:

Next, I wanted to get more practice with free motion quilting, so I chose to make a place mat as a holiday gift for my neighbors. Again, I made up my pattern on a computer, printed out (in 2D on paper, as seen in first picture) the outline as a guide for cutting and piecing, and then proceeded with sewing it all together. After patchwork was done, I cut the circles out of red felt and used them with beads to decorate the trees. I used the fusible fleece for batting, quilted very imperfectly all around the trees (didn’t even try to quilt over beads that were already there) and dark green border, finishing off by sewing the binding strip by hand.

At this point, I was finally feeling confident enough to attempt a blanket sized quilt. I chose the size based on batting I had: 60×60″, which is a throw size. While my preference is to create my own patterns and figure out how to cut and stitch the pieces, for this occasion a pattern I’ve seen in a YT video struck me as very interesting and with a neat shortcut that will speed up the process. The instructions were again in Russian, which didn’t bother me in the least, but I had to do some adaptation, because my rulers are in inches, while the measures shown in the video were in centimeters. I used Illustrator to figure out the measures, simply making the block of two triangles 2″ tall. The images below show the first steps of cutting pieces of fabric based on rectangle templates I’ve printed out on paper in such a way that there were three rows of rectangles with the cutting line aligning between the rows, so that I was able to find exactly how much to offset the rows of these rectangles when I was stitching them together without resorting to using measuring with a ruler – it was a matter of using a marking on the template:

After the rows were stitched together with an offset, I would use paper template to make markings for the cut and then diagonally cut with rotary cutter, and then use these rows of triangles as a guide to cut the white fabric pre-cut in strips that matched the height of triangle rows. After piecing it together, I ended up with the first two blocks. I needed two more to complete the first whirlwind block, plus a 2×2″ square for the middle. Rinse and repeat three more times for the total of 4 whirlwind blocks:

I wasn’t sure how it will all be tied together, so I fired up Illustrator and constructed the blocks I’ve made so far. I was moving them around and rearranging them, until I settled on the idea of adding a row of mostly square patches to go in between these blocks and link them together in cohesive whole. I also had a bunch of room for the border, so I knew I was far from finished with patchwork. I tried several designs for border and ended up with one seen below:

After all this stitching, I was only halfway through this project. Seen in the photo above is the sandwich with batting and backing fabric, which I subsequently basted with curved safety pins. After oiling the machine, I was ready for the quilting. I only quilted on white fabric, leaving the colored alone, but even that took quite a while. The backing fabric is poppy red, and the binding strip darker blue, sewn by hand as the very last step.

The next project was quick and easy: I wanted to repair my son’s chair somehow, because the cover got cracked and broken up, and foam under it all thinned out and nasty looking. Instead of fixing it, I chose to cover it with a puff quilt (Russians call it бонбон). I used some old jeans for the front three rows of puffs to make them stronger, and used poly fill for stuffing. I made a mistake of stuffing the quilt before sewing it to the backing, so it was a bit difficult to make that last seam, but it worked out. I was impressed with my Pfaff having no problem whatsoever sewing right through multiple layers of denim that could barely fit under presser foot.

Having gained some confidence with sewing and quilting, my mind was set on trying the Millefiori or La Passacaglia quilt. These are pentagon based mandala designs that include 5 basic shapes: large pentagon, small pentagon, two types of diamonds and one triangle. I looked at how they are composed and realized that I do not need to buy the pricey books, templates or paper pieces, but could create my own design in Illustrator, 3D print the templates, and I ended up doing exactly that. The templates are available on Thingiverse and include the organizer for paper pieces, an Illustrator file with all the shapes, and a sample design. I ended up not using paper pieces at all, since I could just hand stitch without them, utilizing running stitch that would go along the shape lines drawn on the wrong side of fabric. That way, I could get perfect alignment, especially for corners, because as I run the needle in and out of two pieces of fabric, I can easily check the other side to make sure that the thread will align with the seam line perfectly, which isn’t possible when machine sewing. This method is so much faster and easier than paper piecing, which left me puzzled why so many quilters would choose to do this tedious busy work of paper piecing. The seams are pressed to one side instead of being open, which makes the thread practically invisible on the right side, while with paper piecing it’s hard to conceal the stitches.

I didn’t want to commit to doing another large quilt, so I ended up designing a tote. Below on the left is the design I made in Illustrator by duplicating these basic shapes and snapping them together with the aid of smart guides, and on the right is a work in progress with a view of templates I used and few paper pieces which I didn’t use.

Once pressed, the patchwork looks as good as if it had paper pieces supporting its shape. Pressing seams to the side goes well when the shapes have even number of sides, such that one seam is pressed in, one out of the shape, so that the ends of fabric make up a nice little flower at points. But with pentagons this isn’t possible, and at one point I decided that I didn’t want to spend the extra time to make sure seams are perfectly arranged and all points form a neat flower shape – I just pressed! And it was fine, even though some seams were twisted – half pressed to one side half to the other. It didn’t matter one bit, because the right side of patchwork looked good, and the wrong side would be pressed onto fusible fleece and never seen again. The quilting was done over fleece alone, and the lining was done separately. I used faux leather for the bottom piece to make the tote stronger, and quilted the fleece on the bottom of liner with pockets, which was separate from outer shell. I failed to take a picture before sewing it all together, so here are the photos of all sides of the bag, including the inside, with three inner pockets, one of which has a zipper and fits the phone. As a final touch, I 3D printed a tag just for the kicks.

That’s all for now. I do have some other projects that haven’t made it to the blog yet, but I’m really itching to try something I’ve had in mind for some months – a combination of quilt blocks and crochet motifs. I would also like to try Draw-Sew-Trim technique and do a Sri Yantra or Metatron’s cube. I really enjoyed getting into quilting and will surely continue experimenting with various techniques.

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