Stitching Times serves up stories, examples and tutorials about needlework related crafts, especially quilting and crochet. Almost all of the projects shown have been designed by Kay Stephenson

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Quilting Practice: Placemats with a Difference

These placemats are a great practice project for machine quilting. The idea is to make several placemats with the same fabric layout, then quilt each with a different technique or pattern.

I made a set of twelve so that I could practice all of the techniques I will use on a large wall hanging. I wanted to perfect the techniques (ok, maybe not perfect, but at least improve) before I started working on the wall hanging, which is likely to get a bit more scrutiny than every day placemats only noticed by family.

Skills you will use

  • Rotary cutting
  • Basic machine piecing
  • Machine quilting techniques: stippling, in-the-ditch, border patterns
  • Quilt binding techniques: making straight binding, mitered corners

There are many excellent books that teach quilting techniques as well as several good sources on the internet. is a good source of information and links. And the library at Victoriana Quilt is another good source.

Project Specifications
Description: A set of 6 quilted placemats demonstrating different machine quilting designs.

Each placemat top is made up of 7 horizontal rows. Each row consists of eight 2 inch blocks and each block is made of 2 triangles. Therefore, each placemat requires 56 blocks or 112 triangles.

Skill Level: beginner

Finished dimensions: each placemat 16 inches wide by 14 inches tall

MaterialsNote: All fabrics are assumed to be 44 inches wide unless stated otherwise. However, assume that an inch or more in width will be lost due to the selvedge edge. The same applies to the fabric yardage. I usually assume that fabric will not be cut perfectly straight and plan to loose 2 inches on either end of a cut piece. Also, I recommend that all fabric be washed prior to use. If it is going to shrink substantially, you want to know this before you cut.

Select quilter’s cottons for the top, backing, and binding that coordinate well. I used over 20 different fabrics because I was using up bits and pieces from another project. However, if you are purchasing new fabric for this project, I would recommend that you select at least 8 different but coordinating fabrics, and look for small prints and patterns since the pieces are quite small and a large motif will be lost.

Based on the assumptions above, one yard of fabric will yield eleven (11) 2⅞ inch WOF strips and each strip will yield 13 squares and 26 triangles. So one yard of fabric will yield 278 triangles. 672 triangles are needed to complete the project.

Top: Depending on the number of fabrics selected, you will need to purchase
Single fabric: 2⅓ yards
Two fabrics: 1¼ yards each
Eight fabrics: ⅓ yard each
If using all fat quarters, you will need a total of 11 pieces to make 6 placemat tops.

Backing: 1½ yards

Binding: 2¼ yards

Batting: 36 inch wide craft batting – 1 ¾ yards; 90 or 96 inch wide quilt batting – ½ yard; 40 inch by 60 inch crib batting – 1 piece; or any combination that will yield 6 pieces that are each 18 x 16. I recommend all cotton batting. These placemats will be washed frequently, and you want something with low loft so that it will lie flat enough for stemware to stay upright.

Thread: to machine piece the top, for machine quilting of tops and to attach and finish binding. Specialty machine quilting threads are available, but not required. I generally use cotton all purpose thread. Try to select colors that will blend with all of your fabric choices so that you do not need to change thread frequently throughout the project.

ToolsSewing machine equipped with ¼ inch patchwork foot; even feed/walking foot; and free motion/darning foot.

Rotary cutter and self healing mat

Quilting ruler

Stencils, marking pens and/or tracing paper from transferring designs for free motion quilting.

Cutting Instructions
Note: WOF stands for Width of Fabric. Cutting instructions refer to standard width fabric. Refer to directions that accompany your rotary cutter and mat for instruction on their use, or look here online. Here are a couple of sites with good instructions Rotary Cutting or Rotary Cut Strips

Top: cut 26 strips each 2 ⅞ inches wide by WOF; sub-cut each strip into 13 squares; cut each square in half on one diagonal to make 26 triangles.

Backing: 18 x 16 – cut 6

Batting: 18 x 16 – cut 6

Binding: Cut 52 strips 1 ½ wide x WOF

Piecing triangles

Match the triangles in any manner that is pleasing to you. I tried to get the widest variation possible and to ensure there was as much contrast within each block as possible. That is, matching lighter to darker fabrics rather than creating monotone blocks.
With wrong sides together, sew a ¼ inch seam along the long edge.
Finger press seams toward the darker color (or steam press, but be careful not to distort the shape of the square).

Piecing rows

Now layout the squares for each placemat in a grid eight squares across and seven down. Try to alternate light with dark and not have too many of the same squares right next to each other. I tried to have all of the diagonals going in the same direction, and always put the darker half of the square on the bottom, but this was a personal choice.
Sew each row of eight together with ¼ inch seams. Press seams in rows 1, 3, 5 and 7 all to the left and in rows 2, 4 and 6 all to the right. This ensures smoother seams when the rows are joined together.

Assembling placemat top
Match the bottom of row 1 to the top of row 2 matching up seams and alternating seam allowances (that is one pointing left and one pointing right). Sew a ¼ inch seam. Continue in this manner matching the bottom of row 2 to the top of row 3, etc. until all rows have been joined. Press the entire placemat top ensuring not to distort the overall shape.

Machine quilting

Place a piece of backing material wrong side up on a smooth work surface. Center a layer of batting over the back. Add the placemat top over the batting with the right side up. Now pin or baste the layers together to hold them in place. I like to use quilter’s bent safety pins because they are quick and easy to insert and remove.

Now you are ready to quilt. Using your walking foot, try quilting “in-the-ditch” (which means sewing a line of stitches right on top of the seam).

Once you are comfortable with that, try your darning foot. You can trace a design onto the placemat top such as would be used for border rows or some other design repeating design like this flower.

Finally try some stippling. Here is a close-up picture of my stippled mat.

Again, there are many sources to learn about machine quilting. Quilter's Review is a great place to have questions answered by experts and many of your questions have already been answered and saved in easy to navigate folders.

Part of the fun of this pattern is that you end up with half a dozen placemats that at a glance all look alike, but up close each is different because of the quilting design.

Finishing placemat
Finally, you are ready to finish the placemats. Take the strips you cut for binding and sew them together end to end to make one long piece of binding tape. You can press the binding with a fold down the middle if you prefer, but this is really not necessary. Note that I have not recommended making bias tape for this binding. Because there are no curved edges and the pieces are small, it really isn’t necessary either.

Trim each placemat to remove excess backing and batting, and to achieve a nice straight edge on all four sides of the mat. Take the end of the binding tape you have made and fold the end back by ¼ to ½ inch (folding wrong sides together.

Now starting at the bottom edge, match the right side of the binding to the top of the mat. Start sewing together with a ¼ inch seam. Miter the corners as you go. Craft and Fabric Links has a good description with photos to explain how to miter corners. When you come back around to your starting point, overlap the beginning by an inch or so, then backstitch and remove from machine. Cut excess binding.

Turn binding to wrong side of placemat, folding under ¼ inch to make a smooth edge and whipstitch to the back. That’s it. Wash the placemats before the first use.

You now have learned several useful machine quilting techniques you can apply to larger projects, and you have some perfectly serviceable placemats that are uniquely your own.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Grocery Bag Yarn: a new take on recycling

Not too long ago I was hop scotching around the internet and stumbled on the idea of recycling plastic grocery bags by turning them into yarn for crochet projects. Since I had a humongous bag of bags sitting in my basement ready for return to the place from whence they came, I decided to try a little experiment. I cut up a few bags, made the yarn and started crocheting a little square.
Neat! It’s easy, quick, and potentially useful. I decided to try some more. Before I knew it, I had created this bag which is currently stuffed full of all the fabric needed to make a queen-sized quilt.
This is a very simple pattern and probably a good project for a novice since it only uses single crochet stitch and basic increase, decrease and joining techniques. Here is the pattern if you would like to make one.
Dimensions: 10 x 10 x 6
Plastic Grocery bags – roughly 50 bags made into yarn. You can find instructions for making the yarn in several locations on the internet. Try this one. And while you are there, if you aren’t familiar with Helle Jorgensen’s art, get ready to be inspired. Here is a link to the homepage for gooseflesh. I made this bag entirely of Publix grocery bags in one color. However, you could easily crochet with different colored bags to create interesting designs.
Crochet hook – I used a Wright’s Boye 6-inch aluminum hook size K / 10½ 6.5mm. I found that the aluminum hook slid better on the plastic bag yarn, which turns out to be rather sticky compared to traditional fiber yarns.
Sewing Needle – I used a yarn darner, but a tapestry needle would also work as long as it has an eye that is large enough to accommodate the yarn.
Gauge: 3 sc = 1 inch
Front and Back
Row 1: ch 31, sc in second ch from hook and in each ch across – 30 sc. 1 turning chain.
Row 2: *sc in first and each sc across row for a total of 30 sc. Turn.*
Row 3 – 30: rep * * and fasten off.
Sides, base, and strap
Row 1: ch 16, sc in second ch from hook and in each ch across – 15 sc. 1 turning chain.
Row 2: *sc in first and each sc across row for a total of 15 sc. Turn.*
Row 3 – 91: rep * *.
Row 92: sc 3, skip the next sc, sc 7, skip the next sc, sc 3. 1 turning chain.
Row 93: sc 3, skip the next sc, sc 5, skip the next sc, sc 3. 1 turning chain.
Row 94: sc 3, skip the next sc, sc 3, skip the next sc, sc 3. 1 turning chain.
Row 95: sc 3, skip the next sc, sc 1, skip the next sc, sc 3. 1 turning chain.
Row 96: *sc 7. 1 turning chain. *
Row 97-145: rep* *.
Row 146: sc 2, inc 1 by sc twice in next sc, sc 1, inc 1 by sc twice in next, sc 2. 1 turning chain.
Row 147: sc 2, inc 1, sc 3, inc 1, sc 2. 1 turning chain.
Row 148: sc 2, inc 1, sc 5, inc 1, sc 2. 1 turning chain.
Row 149: sc 2, inc 1, sc 7, inc 1, sc 2. 1 turning chain.
Row 150: sc 15 across. Fasten off.
Match up the beginning row of the side/base/strap piece with the left side of the front piece. Pin the two pieces around the sides and base of the front using large safety pins and easing to fit. End with row 91 of the side/base/strap at the upper right side of the front. Join with an invisible seam by placing edge to edge and whip stitching together. Repeat with the back. Now join the strap row 160 to strap row 1 using the same method, which forms the handle of the bag.
Using a smaller crochet hook, pull any loose pieces of yarn to inside of bag, or weave them into the fabric to hide.
Blocking is not necessary or in fact possible given the tendency of the yarn to melt. If you are looking for a source of free crochet instructions and patterns, here is a great one called Crochet Pattern Central. Developed by Rachel Geller and her sister and maintained by Rachel in her spare time, it’s a great online resource with lots of patterns, instructions and “how to” articles.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Tit for Tat

Previously published September 24, 2007 on Inkslinger

I had an opportunity to hear the Yarn Harlot speak last week. And, since I knew that there would be a room full of knitters sitting there doing something with their hands that involved yarn and needles, and since, though I have knit in the past, it isn’t one of my current occupations, I determined to take some tatting with me. I’ve been learning how to tat with a needle – that shuttle thing is beyond me – and had an idea for Christmas ornaments. Every year my husband and I throw a big Christmas party. Last year I made ornaments, which leveraged the crazy quilt techniques and fabric I had been using to create a full size quilt, as party favors. I thought I would try to tat some to give away this year. Here is the result.

I actually only completed a couple at the event, and those didn’t have the beads. The plain ones are pretty but as a representation for a wreath, they just seemed to scream for berries. Anyway, these are a great beginner project, and once you are comfortable with the technique and the pattern, you can crank out several in an hour – a good project for time in from of the TV. However, unlike knitting, tatting does require you to look at your work a bit more often. I learned from this book by Barbara Foster of Handy Hands Tatting. Jane Eborall also has a great website with lots of free patterns and links to a whole long list of tatting blogs. Finally, you have to check out Yarnplayer's shop on Etsy. I just bought some gorgeous hand dyed thread there.
Now if anyone out there has an easy beginner’s pattern for a needle tatted snowflake, let me know…