I’ll take “Patterns I’ll Never Try Again” for $1000, Alex

A couple months ago my local Modern Quilt Guild received some sets of Robert Kaufman charm packs (precut 5” squares) in solids, so they devised a challenge: use the charm packs as your primary fabric, and only use solids for your quilt.

I was looking around for ideas for my take on the challenge, and among the search results for using charm packs was this Square Dance quilt [PDF link] by Cheryl Petreman. The pinwheel effect looked cool, so I decided to try it out. I first had to put the squares together in a grid where each fabric contrasted sufficiently with the ones around it – this took some fiddling and head-scratching but I finally found a reasonable layout. I didn’t use every single one of the pieces – there were two or three left unused, I believe.
I started having problems with the simple task of sewing the squares into rows and columns – the precut charm packs come with pinked edges rather than straight ones, and I found that that made it difficult for me to make my seam allowances accurate and consistent. I had to redo some several times and when I was putting columns together, even with pinning and fudging I ended up with a couple corners that were really off. I decided to move on with what I had. This is what it looked like after the first step.

Then I got to the part where you create a template, mark up the quilt, and cut it up, and the real trouble began. Even though I’d used 5″ squares, when I tried to use the size template indicated in the instructions it was too small. This matters because if your template is too small, you don’t get an even grid to use to cut. I tried 3″ and 3.5″ and finally made another one at 3.75″ which was still a little small but close enough that I stuck with it.

Then I got to the cutting, which took less time than I thought but was hard to do accurately, especially since you have to do it with scissors since the grid is offset. And of course, if your squares aren’t perfectly sized, they will be difficult to sew together. Oh yeah, and did I mention that since everything gets rotated, all these seams are bias? (The author does have an optional section on how to use fusible interfacing to stabilize everything, but who wants to bother with that for a quilt, not to mention how it would alter the feel of the fabric?)

I was committed at this point (or is that, should be committed?) and persisted with putting the pieces together, and with a little pulling and fudging and a bit of cursing, I did end up with a finished top.

I am still pondering whether I want to add additional borders – what do you think?

Although I do like the resulting quilt, I wouldn’t recommend this pattern unless you are an expert quilter who is spot on with your 1/4″ seam allowance and a steady hand with fabric shears. In the back of my head, I keep thinking that there has to be a way to get a similar result with less fuss – if I come up with something, you’ll be the first to know.

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Mine is now a 2-SM workroom

Several years ago, my parents got me a very basic sewing machine for Christmas; it’s one of the things that got me back into sewing. After I got my shiny new Kenmore a while ago, the little White sat ignored on the back corner of my sewing table. Until last weekend, when I dusted it off and fired it up. I wanted to see if I could set it up as a quilt piecing machine, so I could alternate working on quilts and garments without having switch over my other SM.

The attempt didn’t begin well – first I broke off a needle when I mixed up the stitch length and stitch width selectors, and accidentally tried to zigzag with a straight-stitch foot. Then my bobbin thread was messed up no matter what the tension setting – then I figured out I’d put the bobbin in backwards. (That’s what happens when you get used to a drop-in bobbin.) Once I got all that user fail out the the way, the machine performed well. In fact, the White does better with small pieces than the Kenmore, probably because of the narrower feed dogs. It does have a tendency for the top layer to end up longer than the bottom – maybe I should finally delve into the world of walking feet.

Here are some of the blocks I made last Sunday – these are for a solid-color strips challenge from the Bay Area Modern Quilt Guild, the meeting of which I attended on Saturday. The layout is similar to Amish Strips & Stripes from MaryQuilts.com, but in a larger size. It’s not my usual color palette, but I kinda like it; somehow it feels very Ben Sherman.