Sunday, June 30, 2013

Hexie Quilt - Paper Pieces are GONE +Tips

I don't really know how I can spend so many hours working on this quilt, enjoyable hours, inexplicably engaging and not boring hours, time I crave almost like an addict craves a fix. It must be what I need right now, meditative, quiet time.

During the past two weeks, I starched and pressed the back, removed all of the basting stitches and paper pieces, sandwiched the quilt, and began the long hand-quilting process. Pressing and starching (with Best Press, the scent-free variety) helps the hexies to keep their proper shape while and after removing the paper pieces.

Snipping the basting threads and lifting the stitches back to the knots on each end was fairly easy with these fabulous seam-ripping scissors, which I believe are actually suture removal scissors. I highly recommend them! Even with this great tool, it took about 25 hours to get all the stitches removed and another 4 to remove all the papers.

After working for a few hours on it, I started saving the threads. Quite a pile, don't you think? I might try to make an art project with them, spreading them out on a heavy plastic sheet covered with a PVA glue/water mix, arranging them into some sort of picture and then, when dry, appliqueing them onto a background.

Back to the quilt, the next step was to remove the paper pieces. Checking the quilt carefully after finishing, I found 5 or 6 I had missed. Thinking they were all out, I again pressed the wrong side, finding 4 more un-removed paper pieces. Now I had them all... right? Wrong.

I certainly did not want to get the quilt all basted together, start hand quilting and find paper pieces still inside some of the hexies. So I got the idea to hang the quilt top over the edge of my work table in a darkened room with a couple of lights under the table.

As you can see above, the effect was stunning, like a stained glass window in a cathedral (click on picture to see it bigger)!

Did I find more paper pieces hiding? Yes, three more showed quite clearly. In the photo above, you can see two of them, one in the white pathway of hexies, the other is one of the pink flower petals. The center of that same flower looks suspicious as well, but it was just the dark red fabric.

Now I'm willing to bet all the paper pieces are out. Of course I saved them to re-use on the next hexie quilt... Did I really say that? Eeeeeeek!

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

Basting Tip

I started basting the fabric around the paper hexie pieces using "junk thread," old cotton and polyester thread, bits and remains on nearly empty spools. I wasted a lot of time because the threads tangled and knotted, especially when I tried to use a longer thread. Using a shorter length (about 2 feet) helped a little with the tangles, but took longer to repeatedly have to thread the needle. I was using a regular sewing needle, one that was a little difficult to push through the card stock of the paper pieces.

Finally, I hit on the perfect thread/needle combination! Here it is, worth every penny of extra cost, and pennies sums it up, not dollars:

Basting thread - YLI glazed, 100% cotton quilting thread - I basted with lengths up to 48" long, and it never tangled or knotted, speeding up the basting process by at least 50%.

Basting needle - Foxglove Cottage straw needle, size 9 - Fabulous, strong, just the right length needle! It even kept its sharp point after basting through 100s of paper pieces. I used only three to baste over 4,000 hexies! Also, straw needles in size 10 were perfect for whip stitching the hexies together. I'll probably try them for hand quilting as well. Most quilting shops carry at least one of two brands, sometimes Foxglove Cottage, sometimes John James, both seeming equally good.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Hexie Quilt - To Fix or Not to Fix?

For the past few days, I've been hunkered down over my beading tables, tables currently cloaked with the top to my Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt, removing basting stitches from more than 4,000 hexies, a job that took about 24 hours.

Here's how it looked last evening with all the stitches finally removed. After taking the above photo, I ran my fingers lightly over the surface of the quilt top, looking, like a person reading braille, for any basting stitches I might have missed. They were there to be found, I assure you. I also found something else.

Do you see what I see? Oooops. How on earth did I get five hexies of one fabric and one from a different fabric in the same flower? See it, the one at center bottom? It's a slightly lighter blue print, one with little white flower, not little red flowers like the others.

Thinking I may have switched hexies in "stacks" for two different flowers, I located the flower made with the "little white flower" print. Ah, no problem there. It was as it should be. I guess it will always be a puzzlement to me how just one wrong hexie got into just one of the flowers.

Back to the problem flower, "to fix, or not to fix" questions buzzed through my thoughts. Would it bother me forever? Would I always notice that one hexie petal, the petal that didn't match its mates? Could it remain as a sign of humility, of acceptance that I am an inexperienced quilter, who like everyone else makes my share of mistakes? Would I offer apologies for it to friends looking at the finished quilt? What if I tried to fix it and cut the fabric of a neighbor hexie as I was removing it? Would it be difficult to replace?

As I do many time when facing a quilting question like this, I talked with my friend, Lunnette, who has been quilting much longer than I have. She too has been making a hexie quilt, although hers is not traditional like mine. One reason I like to consult with her is because she never seems to TELL me what to do. As usual, she just offered a few comments, telling me how she replaced one of the hexies in her quilt, finding it a fairly easy process, mentioning how she couldn't "live" with the way the original hexie looked. She reminded me that we knot at the beginning and end of each little seam, so that ripping it out wouldn't cause unraveling of adjacent seams. She told me how she lifts a stitch in the center of the seam with a pin so she can get the point of the scissors into it without risk of cutting the fabric, unraveling the seam from there with the pin or a seam ripper.

OK! Searching through my 30's reproduction fabric stash, I found the correct fabric, cut a new hexie, basted it, removed the problem hexie following Lunnette's method for ripping the seams, and stitched it in place.  Here you are! All better!

Truth be told, I probably would have been fine with it the way it was; after all, even after stitching the flower, stitching the white hexies around it, and stitching the quilt top together, I hadn't previously noticed it. But, I'm glad I decided to fix it, because of the value of the learning experience. What would you have done and why?

Next step? Turn it over and remove all 4,000+ paper pieces from the back side, another tedious and time-consuming job, one that I completed today!

My next post will be all about Tips for Hexie Quilts, things I've discovered, mostly the hard way, things I don't want to forget if I ever decide to do another one of these, things that might even help you if you're making a paper-pieced hexie quilt.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hexie Quilt Top Almost Finished!

I began making three-quarter-inch hexies for a traditional Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt on March 6, 2012.

In the following 15 months, approximately 910 hours of work later, I have nearly completed the top!!!!

Here I am holding up the top, peeking through the last few feet of the last seam still to be sewn. Holding it as I whip stitch along each 3/4" seam, joining hexie to hexie, takes a tremendous amount of finger strength because of the weight of the rest of the quilt pulling it out of my grasp. The weight is more than you'd imagine because the paper pieces are still in each of the hexies.

When I finish this seam, the next step is to iron the top, and possibly spray starch it. Then I'll remove the basting stitches and the paper pieces. Does anybody have any thoughts about the spray starch? Is it a good idea? Is there a brand or type you've used successfully?

Then I have to find a place where I can lay out the back, the batting, and the top on a large floor space or tables. I plan to baste the layers together rather than pin because I think know it will take me a L-O-N-G time to quilt and the pins might leave permanent holes in the fabrics. Yes, I'm going to hand quilt it. I've made a faithful reproduction quilt so far and want to keep it that way if possible. Yes, it will be hugely challenging and character building. Oh well...

Just in case you're interested... here are the steps and the approximate time to complete each of them.

There are 4,428 hexagon-shaped pieces (hexies) in this quilt top. The size of each hexagon is 3/4" measured along one edge.

I used approximately 330 different prints and solids, all of them reproductions of 1930s fabrics. To wash and iron these fabrics, plus cut and baste 4,428 hexies took approximately 270 hours. That's almost 7 solid work weeks just to get the hexies ready to stitch together!

The most fun part was making the flowers, choosing a solid color for the center, and stitching the hexie petals around the center. There are 238 flowers in the quilt. Each flower is a different fabric, although I only used about 20 different colors for the centers. I estimate it took me about 100 hours to stitch the flowers. I'd do this step again in a heart beat, because they are small enough to be easy to handle, relatively quick to sew, and ever so pleasing, each different, each precious in its own way.

The next step was a little more boring... sewing the plain white pathway hexies around 130 of the flowers, which added another 130 hours of hand stitching.

I didn't count the hours it took me to layout all the flowers in a pleasing arrangement and decide which green hexies I would match to which flowers (to suggest leaves) in alternate rows. I'm going to guess about 10 hours, maybe more, because I did it in several stages. The picture above shows the last stage of the layout process, after I'd already stitched many of the flowers together in sections of about 12 flowers.

Making the flowers and stitching the white borders around them is easy lap work. Sewing them together starts to get difficult. I wrote the row number and column letter on the back of each flower after laying them out, so I could keep them in the right order as I sewed them together. I first made large sections, like the one pictured above, about 4 rows deep and 4 to 6 flowers across.

At this point, I decided to add a double border around the whole quilt. Working with the outside sections, I added the border hexies. Then I sewed the sections into larger sections that went all the way across the quilt, still 4 rows deep.There were 7 units spanning the width of the quilt top. The last step was to sew these 7 units together. The picture at the top of this post shows me holding up the quilt with just under half of the last seam yet to sew. This process got more and more difficult as the pieces got larger... It's difficult to hold (very tired fingers, can't sew more than 1 or 2 hours at a time), heavy, takes up a lot of space (no longer a simple lap job... plan on the whole sofa). Time for joining the flowers together to complete the quilt top? It took about 400 hours.

The finished size (before quilting) is 71" x 93", which is a nice blanket size for a single bed, or big enough to use as a topper for a full or queen bed. Total time to hand-sew this quilt top was approximately 910 hours, which is equivalent to 22.75 work weeks, or nearly 6 months on the job.

Why do we do this? Why spend so many hours hand sewing one quilt? I don't know if I would have accepted the job if I had realized how many hours it would take. However, it has been engaging most of the time. Plus, I am able to watch movies or programs on TV while I'm sewing, and many of the hours were spent in the enjoyable company of my quilting buddies. (Some of them are also working on hexie quilts.) All in all, I'd give it close to 5 out of 5 stars as jobs go.

I'm a tad worried about hand quilting it. I hope it's manageable, that my hands will hold up to the effort of it, and that I don't get too bored. I'll keep a time sheet on it and report back after a while.

Oh, and by the way, now you understand why I haven't been blogging much during the past year and a half. It also explains why I haven't finished my Bead Journal Projects for 2012 or 2013. That's the real drawback to making a quilt like this, the one regret I have about it.