Sunday, January 2, 2011

January Log Cabin - 5. Sewing Tricks

So hopefully by now you have figured out how you are going to manage the 1/4" seam allowance.  Its time to practise and get that right.
If you haven't managed to get a foot, you can try out some different techniques.  A few websites talk about putting a piece of masking tape on your plate and using that as a guide.   Here are some links to try it out:

How to sew
About sewing

Thats going to work OK for now, but it will need to be replaced on a regular basis, and lets face it - if this patchwork craze kicks off, you will probably want to buy a foot down the track.

Set up
Despite the atrocious state of my sewing space (read junk room), clothing, 39w pregnant belly and triple chin, I have decided to show you a picture of my sewing room.
Its very cramped.....

But in a way it works because I don't have to leave my chair to iron!  Given this block is ironed every single seam, it would kill me to keep getting up and down.  So - I sew, swivle around, and iron. 

Having a nice set up means that patchwork is more fun.  Even if you clear off your dining table 1 night a week when the kids are in bed, you need to set up a station  that works for you.  My overlocker and sewing machine sit side by side.  Behind my machines is my junk that doesn't have a home, and my thread drawers which also have notions like elastic and embroidery thread in them.  It works for me - its not ideal!!!  But it works ------  just.

Conventions with thread and patchwork:

Normally a good quality cotton or polyester thread.  I'm a bit of a snob and I only use molnlycke or guttermann or mettler threads.  I tend to use 100% polyester, unless I am really making an heirloom in which case I use cotton.
The colour used depends on the nature of the blocks.  You can't go wrong with a nice off white colour.  My thread of choice is col 111 or 1 in large rolls of Guttermann.  I think I get this from spotlight for about $10 or so for a 500m (??) spool, it lasts forever.  I use it on the bobbin and on the top thread.
If you have darker fabrics, go with a matching thread.  If you have a mix of dark and light, always go light.  When you are doing patchwork you press the seams right open, and anything other than off white thread looks terrible.

You never backstitch in patchwork.  You are only working with a 1/4" seam, and any backstitching stuffs up the tension at the start of the piecing, as well as adding bulk.  It also makes it harder to undo in a mistake, and you will damage the fabric.
Everytime you iron a seam open there is a chance that the piecing will start to unravel, so be gentle with your pieces, and sew them back together quick smart.
Your stitching will be overlapped the next time you do a seam, so there is never a need to backstitch.  Save that for dressmaking.

Always pin each end.  Even on little pieces like this you can get movement which will affect your accuracy.  I fought pinning for such a long time, but got sick of crappy results.  So now I pin.

Start right at the beginning of the pieces, and finish off the end of the pieces. 

Cut and iron.

1/4" Seam Allowance
 My allowance works with the edge of the foot just inside the fabric.  As shown.

  You need to experiment with your machine until you get it right.  The suggestion is that you cut 3 x 1.5" strips, sew them to each other and press open.  The middle piece should be exactly 1".

How far is too far out from 1/4"?
You need to work to exactly 1/4" seams.  Obviously we aren't perfect.  We will make mistakes.  When do you need to worry about it?

Well it depends on the size of the pieces you are using.  Large pieces - much more forgiving.  Anything smaller than an inch finished size, and the eye can easily pick up mistakes.

I am comfortable working within a margin of error of a small fingernail, as shown above with the slight overlap.   If you imaging clipping your nails back so there is no white, and then looking at them a few days later you can just start seeing the white - thats about my tolerance.  Say 1mm?

In patchwork, we press the seam to one side.  Generally speaking, press to the dark side so that the dark pieces don't show behind any light fabric.

In this block however, I prefer to iron everything from the centre out.  Use a hot iron, press firmly and open the seam out as far as you can (without pulling the stitches apart)

So I think thats about enough for today.  The sewing takes no time.  I have knocked out 8 log cabin blocks in about 2 hrs sewing over the last day, so I'm working at about 15mins per block.
Once you get all this sorted - the actual sewing is no time!

And remember - this is supposed to be fun!  I usually have a smile on my face when I get to shut the door to my sewing room and ignore the kids for an hour or two.

Next post:  Actually sewing!!!!!!!


JHCSMUM said...

Wow what an awesome sewing room, with a window and a door (mine is a wee cubby at the end of the hall, no blocking out children). Fantastic instructions, just a wee question, I have cut out five blocks, so do I lay it out how it is meant to look finished before I sew it or just wing it off each pile?

Fi said...

I lay mine out into a light pile of 12 lights, and 12 darks at the right length for each block. That way you just peel the next piece off and sew. If you look at my giveaway post, you will see how the giveaways were arranged.
Thanks re the sewing room. Its the overflow 4th bedroom which I have to fight to keep!

JHCSMUM said...

Thanks that makes sense now :-)

hannah said...

yay I'm excited now!!