November 17, 2014

Book Review: BH&G Quilting pieces of the past

I've had quilting on the brain lately. I don't really have time for it right now, but I do have plans. Who doesn't when they have other more pressing projects? When I'm in the zone for some other crafty venture, I usually waste time on Pinterest or borrow books from the library. In this case I came home with Quilting Pieces of the Past (Better Homes & Gardens).

This book was published back in 2004, which doesn't seem all that long ago. The book traces the last 175 years of quilting with 54 quilting projects and full size pattern pieces in an attached insert in the back of the book. The book is divided up into distinct historical periods followed by quilts that are reproductions of that time or inspired by that time. Many of the quilts in the book are drawn from previously published Better Homes and Gardens quilting patterns.

The historical information is very interesting but not nearly as in depth as I would have liked. But it does contain full color pictures throughout with fabric swatches representing the color and style of fabric used in quilts for each time period. The biographical information on the early quilt designers was interesting. Each section contains a historical time period showing the major events of the day so that the reader can understand what influenced some of the quilt designs.

Some of the reviewers on Amazon gave the book poor reviews because many of the projects were not updated with contemporary styling or colors. This did not bother me so much because the quilts were meant to be reproductions of older quilts anyway. It would be easy to update the quilts with newer, fresher color schemes and fabrics. The instructions are where the book struggles a bit. Most of the instructions rely on traditional cutting and piecing techniques. This means that some of the quilt blocks are more difficult to put together because of inset seams. This is particular true with the Lemoyne star block, Bride's bouquet, and a few others. More modern techniques have broken down these blocks to make them easier to piece using strips and special rulers. Some of the quilt blocks are quite intricate and would require very precise cutting and sewing. Several of the quilts are applique quilts and the book contains no instructions on applique.

Despite those deficiencies, I still really liked the book. I loved reading the historical sections and seeing the quilts that came from each time period. I do like many of the quilts in the book and I could see myself making some of them one day. If nothing else, the book could be used as a source of inspiration. It would be easy to take some of the more traditional blocks and up date them. This book is not really for beginners because of several difficult to make quilts  and the sketchy instructions. Still, there are a few projects a beginner could probably attempt without too much difficulty.

Book Rating: 4 stars

November 05, 2014

Cutting dimensions for quilting pre-cuts

I've been spending too much time looking at quilting projects on Pinterest and YouTube lately. Perhaps an act of avoidance for other things. Quilters throw around terms like fat quarter and jelly roll, but it took me a bit of time to know what those things mean in terms of actual cutting dimensions. I trolled around Pinterest looking for a printable that explained those terms for me. I found lots of pretty full-color infographics, but I wanted a one page, black & white piece of paper to hang next to my cutting table. I couldn't find anything suitable, so I opened up Inkscape and made exactly what I wanted. I prettied it up with different fonts and a border.

Click on the image below for the full size. It should easily fit onto an 8.5" x 11" piece of paper.

I slipped it into a page protector and now it lives with my cutting tools next to my cutting table.

Spending all this time thinking about quilts and quilting means that I do have plans for projects.

November 03, 2014

Grading rulers and how-to drawings

I've been hard at work on my grading book. The first half of the book explains children's sizing. The second half is a how-to manual on grading. I've been stuck on the how-to section for quite a while. I could not decide on whether I should do step-by-step photos or illustrations. I fiddled around in Inkscape and managed to pull together some pretty good how-to drawings. The drawing above is a sneak peak.

Photographs would be great but I didn't think I could pull off photographs that were good enough for print. There are some practical matters too. An ebook filled with as many photographs as I need would be enormous. Too big of a file size to process for print (fingers-crossed they turn out ok) and too big to download easily. There are photos in the book, but just a few. So yes, I am planning on an ebook version, though probably not for Kindle.

So the how-to section will be step-by-step drawings. The drawing above is the set-up for hand grading. It shows the guidelines and grading ruler placement. The shaded area represents tagboard. The pattern piece is cut in tagboard too, but is white for clarity.

The gridded area represents the grading ruler. My grading ruler is the rectangular gridded ruler in the middle below. I was lucky enough to find it at a thrift store stuck in the book below.
This style of hinged grading ruler is no longer available. Never fear, there are options. You can grade with any clear ruler that has 1/16" gradations like the 18 inch ruler in the picture above. You can also buy a grading ruler from Connie Crawford. The price can't be beat! I've been looking at special quilting rulers and those are tremendously over-priced in comparison.

The grading how-to section will cover hand grading in depth and a general overview of grading for CAD. CAD grading depends on the CAD software, so in depth instructions would be difficult to cover for each major system.

Because things can be lost in translation - meaning my drawings and photographs may not convey the best for everyone - there will be at least one how-to video. I'm not sure what I'm setting myself up for, but I'll give it a try.

October 27, 2014

Knitting: Vanilla socks

I've been busy, which partially explains the lack of posting on the blog. These socks are a case in point. I started them July 2013 as my sanity knitting project for a family gathering. I finished the first sock Christmas 2013. The second sock came off the needles September 2014. It normally doesn't take me anywhere near this long to knit a pair of socks, especially vanilla socks. My vanilla socks are pretty much all the same. 72 stitch cast on on size 1 needles, 1.5" rib, then stockinette for 5" to the top of the heel. Then I do a traditional heel flap. Then kitchner the toes. I've made many pairs of socks now and I have to say my current socks are much better knit than my early ones, but I'm still wearing those early ones several years later. A couple of pairs are nearly worn through the toes and one pair is just slightly too small.

In other news, the fall garden harvest is nearly done. I've been canning tomatoes like crazy, along with carrots and tomatoes. I think it was a good garden year. I've been previewing PAD System because I am nearly ready to make the leap on my own CAD pattern making system. The cost has been prohibitive to date. The cost includes software, training/support, plotter, and digitizing table. I will start with the software and add on as I go. Why PAD? Because it is the only CAD system that works on Linux. If I choose any other system, I will have to buy a new computer which only adds to the cost and otherwise clutters up my house with yet another computer (we are at 3 desktop PC's, 1 laptop, and 3 tablets. Yikes!).

Finally, I have nearly finished the Myrtle cardigan. The knitting is done and all that is left is blocking, weaving-in ends and sewing on buttons. The poor cardigan is patiently waiting to be finished...

October 13, 2014

What makes a second a second?

In the fashion industry a second is an item with a few defects that can still be worn or used. If there are seconds, then there are firsts though we don't call them that. We may call them first quality, though I rarely hear that term either. The word quality, all by itself, is a controversial term with various meanings attached to it. If there are firsts and seconds, then there are also thirds.

The goal of any company is to produce goods without any defects for the most money possible. But as we all live in the real world, defects happen. I've worked for three different companies and how each handled defects were roughly the same. Each company came up with a ranking system to evaluate product during production and as it came off the line. Each ranking was called something a little different though they conveyed the same meaning. The qualification for each ranking varied and the product that fell into each ranking was handled differently. Here is a brief break down.

First - top quality goods with no obvious defects

Second - goods with X number of defects that may or may not be repaired, but still wearable or usable and can be sold on a secondary market.

Third - goods with sufficient number of serious defects to render the item unwearable or usable. These goods may be sold for scrap and may be called rejects.

Quality can be subjective and that can cause problems not only in production but in the retail sector. A first quality item can be rendered second or third after it's first wearing and washing. In that case, was the item truly a first quality item? Perhaps not. Likewise, a second can be repaired sufficiently to make it a first quality item. But is it financially feasible to repair a second to make it a first? These are all questions that individual companies must deal with as they develop and sell product. In order to not get too long-winded on this subject, let's look at something I recently purchased at the thrift store.

This is a cute knit top that I found at a thrift store for a few dollars. It looked pretty good when I tried it on in the dressing room, but as usual the lighting was bad and I missed some obvious problems. Once home I tried it on again and immediately saw a problem with the gathers on the neckband. I also noticed the brand label and content tag were off center. Also the elastic on one of the sleeve hems was pulling away. It is true that most thrift store clothes are previously worn and I have no doubt this shirt fit that category. But because of the defects, I think this shirt started life as a second and was likely sold at an outlet store or other secondary market.

A closer look reveals the problem on the neckline. There is some fabric caught in the seam. Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures of the problem from the other side, but the fabric caught in the stitching is more obvious. 

This style of neckline would be difficult to sew, especially in a factory. First, each gathered area was pre-gathered by applying 1/4 inch clear elastic - stretched between notches. Next, the operator prepares the neck band. The tie and neckband are one piece. The tie portion is sewn and turned out and the rest of the neckband is folded in half.. Hopefully there were notches to help the operator position the neck band on the neck, otherwise it would be easy to skew the neckband. Anyway, the operator matches up the neckband to the neckline, starting the sewing on the left side neck. The neckband would be on top and the neckline on bottom. The operator has to match the pre-gathered section from underneath to meet a match point on the band, catch enough of the seam under the foot securely and then stitch the pre-gathered section to the neckband. Hopefully there is another notch to indicate where the pre-gathered section should end. The sewing continues around the neck to the right side, where there is hopefully another notch to indicate where the next pre-gathered section should start. The neckline is then finished off, overedging the center front neck which is left unattached from the neckband. This small section is later topstitched down. Finally, the next operator would place the brand and size label to the back neck with a single needle machine within the seam allowance of the neckband/neckline.

The most difficult part of this whole sequence of steps would be where the operator starts attaching the neckband on the left side. The pre-gathered section is not stable and will move around as the pieces are placed under the foot. This is what happened here. Some additional fabric worked its way under the foot as the sewing began. The label placement would be difficult because the operator would have to guess where center back is and place the labels on a knit top that likes to move around.

This type of defect would have been difficult to repair in a factory. The elastic and two rows of stitching would be time consuming to undo and redo and look good. The poor placement of the brand labels would have been a second strike. The top was still wearable though and likely sold as a second or at a steep discount. I imagine there were quite a few seconds on this style....

Anyway, I was able to repair this top. I carefully unpicked the band with my fingers crossed that none of the shirt was cut when it was stitched. Luckily it wasn't. I removed some of the elastic in the affected area (it wasn't worth redoing the whole gathered area with the elastic), and regathered the neckline with a needle and thread. I then basted the neckband and neckline together to double check it was all right and stitched it back together. Almost as good as new - at least you can't tell there had ever been a problem.