Thursday, October 18, 2012

String Quilt Block: A Foundation Piecing Tutorial



String quilts are pretty fantastic. They're so much fun to make, a great way to use up scraps, and can help build a lot of confidence if you're just beginning to learn to piece and quilt.

How to make a string quilt isn't new, and there are lots of other great tutorials out there. I learned how to make my first one from a blog I adore: Film in the Fridge.

I use a similar foundation piecing, aka paper piecing, technique, except for one VERY important part that I changed. I don't use paper. Are you shocked? Well, not regular paper, anyway. I use the same  applique foundation that I use for my turned edge applique. Which means, NO tearing the paper off at the end. Once you trim your block square, you're done! When your quilt is complete, and washed, the fibers of the foundation bury themselves in the batting, and your quilt is soft and wonderful.
I think you're going to love doing string quilt blocks this way.
Are you ready for some paperless paper piecing (as my mama fondly calls it)??

First, collect all of the supplies that you'll need:
Fabric (for this, I used Lilly Belle by Bari J. It's SO purty!)
Basting Glue with a fine tip (You can find the tips {here})
Elmer's Washable School Glue Stick
Rotary Rulers and Cutter
Hot, dry iron (no steam)
Sewing Machine


I'd like to tell you a little bit more about the foundation paper that I'm using. It's a product that my mom, Sharon Schamber, and I have been using for machine applique for many many years. It has helped change how many appliquers do their work. Those who use our technique have more accuracy, work with ease, and don't have to cut out the back of their applique pieces to remove other types of foundations. This foundation simply stays in the applique piece.

Most string quilt tutorials, that I've seen, use printer or scrapbook paper as the foundation paper. There is a downnfall: it all has to be torn away before you can piece the blocks together. I hate tearing the paper away. It can take a lot of time. Also, you always run the risk of distorting your blocks when you tear the paper away from the seams. Using this foundation paper eliminates tearing it away. It stays in, which helps keep your block measurements more accurate, and helps you finish faster. I love efficiency!! After you wash your quilt, the foundation becomes soft, and the fibers blend in with the batting. Oh, and it's really easy to quilt over! Bonus!!

Now you can cut your foundation paper to size. You can really go with any size block, for string quilt blocks. I've seen amazing 12" blocks, and super cute 6" blocks. I'm using a 9" block, here.

Next, cut up some strips of fabric: multiples of 1", 1.25", 1.5", 1.75, 2", and maybe even 2.25" strips. There's a lot of flexibility here to be super scrappy, or to plan out the color order of the strips in the blocks. This, of course depends on you and your personality.

In addition, you'll need 1" strips of your center stripe color (you can make them wider, of course). I chose white for mine, but you can easily go with any color you wish.

Can I just tell you how amazingly soft and lucsious Bari J's Lilly Belle is?
Good quality fabrics make a huge difference. They can make your projects look better, and make them more fun to make (and finish, lol).

Once your strips are cut, take one of your white ones, and measure it along the diagonal center of one of the pieces of foundation paper. Trim it about an inch too long on each end. You can go ahead and cut all of your white strips this same length, as their length won't change.

Now, glue it on down. I use Elmer's Washable School Glue sticks. They start out purple, and turn clear when dry. By far, they are my favorite anytime I need a glue stick for any quilting or sewing project.

Heat set it with a hot, dry iron. With this glue stick, you'll see a bit of purple show through the strip. No worries though, it will be clear once it cools off.

Are you ready for my next little twist??
More glue!!!!
I rarely use pins when I piece, whether it's regular piecing or foundation piecing. I prefer using Elmer's Washable School Glue as a basting glue. I attach a fine tip to the top, apply the glue and heat set it. It works like a charm! Everything stays where it's supposed to, and there's no shifting when I sew them up. Also, I drastically reduce the risk of poking myself with pins, or sewing over them and breaking a needle on my sewing machine. I think you'll really like this way of piecing, without pins.
**Heat-setting is VERY important. It stabilizes the fabrics, and the glue won't gum up your needle.**

Apply a line of glue close to the edge of your white strip. Carefully place your first strip on top of the white one, right sides together. Be sure align the edges of both strips. See how the glue is on th edge of the fabric, and not really on the sewing/seam line? 

Heat set the glue with your dry iron.
Sew it on up! Use a 1/4" seam allowance. Often with foundation piecing, you have to reduce your stitch length so you can tear the paper away more easily (hopefully). No need here. You can keep your usual stitch length. I like 2-2.5.

Press the strip open with a dry iron. Apply another line of glue to the edge of the strip, align the next fabric strip, right sides together, heat set, sew, and press open. Repeat the process with the rest of your strips, to fill up the entire piece of foundation paper. Remember to heat set your glue! This makes all the difference in the world.

Oh! It's soooooo pretty!!

Now you're ready to trim it up. Use your ruler and cutter to cut right along the edge of the foundtion paper, while keeping the same block measurement that you started with.

Now that it's all trimmed up, it's ready for a bigger and better project. I have something in mind for this little beauty. I'm sure it'll be up on the blog soon!

You can stop here, with that block, and continue making more string quilt blocks.

This technique is also great for chain piecing. You can easily prep multiple blocks, and their strips, and sew a bunch up at a time. Also, once you get beyond the first two or three strips, you can prep the strips on both sides of the white stripe, at the same time. Glue the next strip on the right side, then the next on the left, heat set, then sew them up.

I really hope you enjoy this technique, and share it with your friends. I love sharing my little tricks and tips, and am always here to help.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Making Tie-dyed Shapes: Tutorial


In my former life, I taught arts and crafts to kiddos, at summer day camps and sleep-away camps. I taught tie-dying, basket weaving, sewing, and other fun crafty stuff. Now I get to use my skills for fun projects with my own kiddos. 

Fun, bright, tie-dyed shirts, with shapes in the center (or anywhere!), were always a big hit with everyone. They seem hard to make, like they take some sort of super-human tie-dying skillz, but really, they don't. Here's my little (haha) tutorial (warning, it's VERY picture heavy), to guide you through making some fun shirts for your kids, you, or anyone you like enough to
make a super cool shirt for.

First, decide on a shape or design to trace on the shirt. The simpler, the better. My kids wanted Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter's scar. (sorry, I don't have a link for the scar, but you can draw one, or Google it.) Cut it out, and get the rest of your stuff ready:
needle, thread, pencil, rubber bands, soda ash, big bowl of water

Next, trace your shape, with a pencil onto your shirt.

Thread your needle, and tie a nice strong knot at the end. I double up my thread, to keep it from slipping off the needle, and it's a bit stronger. Start sewing along your traced line with a running stitch. Sew all around your shape.

When you get to where you started, start to slowly pull your thread to gather it all together, nice and tight.

Tie off the end with a really strong knot. This is how the gathering should look.

Once you get all the shirts sewn, that you're going to tie dye, they need to soak in a mixture of soda ash and water (1c soda ash to 1gal water). Please don't skip this step. It makes the dye react to the fibers of the fabric to make the dye more permanent. Pool supply stores often have it, if you don't want to order a bunch online. If you have a pool, you might have some sitting on a shelf.

Let it soak for an hour or so. Wring out the excess and get ready to do some dying!!

Okay, here comes the fun part! Dying!!
Here's what you'll need:
powdered dye, urea, bottles, rubber bands, gloves, old rags, prepped shirts (they should be wet)
I buy all of my dying supplies from Dharma Trading Co, online.
They have a great starter kits, too.

Prep all of your dyes, in the bottles, according to the manufacturer's instructions. The urea is used when mixing the powdered dye and water in the bottle. It helps keep the colors nice and bright. We don't want all of our hard work to fade away with a couple of washes.

Wrap a rubber band right along/just below the gathered stitching line. Wrap it nice and tight. Continue wrapping rubber bands along the length of the shirt. Space them out, how you'd like.

If you've got a cute little helper sitting around, ask him to join in. Zip-lock sandwich bags worked great as gloves for him.

Pull out a length of plastic wrap, then lay an old rag and your prepped shirt on top of it.

Pick your first color. Little Miss chose fuschia for Mickey's head. Gently sqeeze the dye to saturate the area. Poke the tip of the bottle in between the folds to make sure you get it in all
of the cracks and crevices.

Continue dying the rest of the sectioned areas with the colors of your choice. Remember to poke the tip of the bottle into the folds of the shirt, and squeeze some dye in there. Otherwise, you'll end up with big areas with no dye.
After it's been saturated with dye, remove the rag, and place the shirt on top of the saran wrap.

Wrap it up like a little tye-dyed burrito.

Place your colorful little burrito in a ziplock bag and leave it alone for 24 hours. This time is very important. The dye needs time to set. If you skip this step, your shirt will fade. We don't want that. The brighter, the better!

Remember to wear your own gloves, or your hands may suffer the same fate as mine.

24 hours later...
Go ahead and take your shirt out of it's burrito, and put it under warm running water. Rinse it under the water, letting the water soak in, then squishing it out, rinse, repeat. Do this, with the rubber bands on, until the water runs mostly clear. Turn the water to cold, and continue to rinse until the water runs completely clear.

Go ahead and remove the rubber bands.

And now for the best part! Very very carefully snip one of the knots at the end of the thread. Gently pull the thread out. And... TADA!!!!! 

After you have all of your shirts rinsed, and the threads removed, it's time to do a final wash.
In your regular washer (top or front loader, it doesn't matter), wash your shirts on warm with the detergent of your choice. I do an extra cold rinse. It just makes me feel better. If you see any color in the water or suds, give it another go in the washer. Dry on medium to high heat.

If your kids didn't already think you were the coolest, they will now!
Enjoy your new shirts! My kiddos love their's and wear them as often as possible!
I think the Mickeys need some extra bling, though.
Maybe some heat-fix crystals? I think, yes!

Hindsight is 20/20, right?
When I do this next time, I'l make sure to get extra dye in the folds of the shirts that the boy worked on. He did all the dying for his sister's shirts, and, as you can see, a few areas are lacking some color.