Saturday, July 14, 2012

Crowing (and, Inevitably, Eating Crow)

The Cass County Fair is fast approaching. I'm feeling the deadline looming large above me (entries are due July 28).

What I still had to actually complete was the quilt block for the raffle quilt. It's the biggest deal going in the Home Arts building and I always like to put in a good entry. (Although my history has been rather mixed.)

This year the theme is "Down on the Farm" and these are the fabrics we were given to work with:
A large block of white(ish) (presumably meant as a "background"), and 10" squares of red (obviously meant for a barn), tan (hay?), crop fields, and pastoral scenes. Looking at the options, it was obvious to me that they geared the fabrics for applique work. (If they were interested in pieced blocks, they wouldn't have given two nearly identical green fabrics.) I also clued in last year that the hand applique blocks were the ones that were winning. So I decided to play their little game this year.

I shot around some ideas in my head, mostly working with log cabin blocks which can be arranged in a straight furrows pattern or rail fence blocks. (Because even if I'm going to applique, that doesn't mean I can't incorporate some piecing.) I finally settled on rail fence blocks with an appliqued rooster weather vein and barn. I grew up on an egg farm and my mom is crazy for chicken things, so I feel an affinity for chickens/roosters. Those are things I know.

First thing I did was buy a little more fabric. You're allowed to add two new fabrics to the mix. Since I had two almost identical greens, I went to look for a brown that would balance the one they gave. And I needed a black for the applique. I was overjoyed to find this tan at my LYS:
(The clothespin is provided for scale.) I love how they look like little cabbages, or something that would grow in a garden. And the tone of the colour went well with the rest.

Then I cut a bunch of stripes
and pieced them into 6-stripe rail blocks. The "rails" are of varying widths.
I made sure to keep all the fabric oriented the correct way whether the block was horizontal or vertical. I struggled with the placement of the darker and lighter brown, but finally decided to put the lighter on top like those "fields" were fainter and, therefore, further in the distance.

I was relieved to have enough fabric to finish the background and that it turned out the right size. (Not wanting to repeat mistakes from the past.) The project sat like this for a couple weeks as I put off dealing with the applique stage. I wasn't really looking forward to it.

So while we're waiting for me to get up the gumption to do it, I will show off the back of the square:
All the seams in the blocks were pressed open to reduce bulk, but the seams between blocks were pressed in one direction to make it easy to match seams and to iron flat. (Every seam is the meeting of a long strip of fabric on one side and the short ends of the strips on the other side. It's easiest to press to the first side.)

This leads to a problem, however, when you are pressing the final seams because part of the seam wants to be pressed in one direction and part wants to be pressed in the other. The thing to do is to pull apart the very end of the first seams caught in the seam allowance and then twist the seam allowances. This gives you a nice flat pinwheel where the two main seams meet:
I have outlined the pinwheel (you can see it looks like a tiny four patch) and drawn arrows on the picture to show the direction that the seams are pressed. This is the first time I've been able to use this trick and it turned out great.

I found some line drawings of roosters online and ended up mashing the tail of one onto the front of another. I did this all in Word on a page defined as 12x12" (the size of the final block). I drew in the arrow and barn roof and decided it was good enough to try.

Since the page was bigger than 8.5", I had to move the graphic first to one side and then the other and print two copies.
I then cut part of one off and taped them together to make a whole rooster again. I modeled it on the square to make sure it would work out ok:
Looks alright.

I had decided with all those sharp corners that I was going to use an applique technique I had read about. You copy the design onto lightweight fusible double-sided adhesive
and then sew it to the applique fabric along the line. You then cut a slit in the adhesive, turn the shape inside out and voila! You have a perfectly turned applique that you can stick in place and then sew down.

Only I didn't. I had a mess:
Top L: Tail feathers that wouldn't "come out." Top R: The head with no
discernible beak. Bottom L: Turning the leg and foot was impossible.
Bottom R: The whole mess from the back.
The adhesive was too thin and would rip. I couldn't turn the fine points inside out. It was awful. I used the same technique on the arrow and that was slightly better since most of the sides were straight lines. The project had to sit for another week or so for me to come to grips with the fact that I had to do this the "old fashioned" way: needle turn applique.

I watched some videos online to reinforce what I thought I knew, and told myself if people can do that crazy detailed Hawaiian applique, I can do a rooster. So I took out my black fabric again, and traced my rooster design in chalk:
And cut it out with my tiny applique scissors that I have only ever used for travel knitting projects (they more than meet the FAA regulations for maximum blade size):
I mocked out the design onto the background to make double sure I didn't see any problems:
and proceeded. (There was a problem--this is where my one big mistake happened. Can you see it? I didn't. Not til the end. Du-du-du-duhhh.)

I started with the rooster because if disaster was going to strike, it may as well come quickly. But it didn't. I started at an easier stretch to get warmed up, and made it all around that rooster in about two evenings. It was great! I had a sneaky suspicion that I would like it once I got it set up. I mean, I'm the one that would rather hand bind my quilts than find a way to do it on machine. Obviously I like hand sewing.

It also was interesting as I made my way around. In this method, you use your needle to turn under the fabric just ahead of where you're sewing. If you work too far ahead, you won't be able to make the correct curves and shapes. You can't worry about that until you get there. It occurred to me that there's a life lesson in there. Don't borrow trouble from tomorrow, I guess.

I told Troy the first evening when I was about half way done the rooster that I thought I was doing pretty well. Even better than "well" actually. He said he was not surprised. I was particularly proud of my rooster's beak:
as it is the key to telling the "story" of the early morning rooster crowing on the farm. Without that beak looking like it was waking up the whole place, I thought the block would fall rather flat. And it was a tricky bit with all those sharp angles.

Next up was the barn. I cut a triangle of red and a strip of white about 3/4" wide. I sewed the white to the edge of the red on my machine and then flipped it up and over itself to the back side again. (Sort of like a binding.)
This put the seam allowances behind the white, which gives it some bulk and makes it look more like trim would. Then I appliqued the top directly to the block.

This left the bottom of the barn free so I took tiny stitches along the bottom of the block to hold it in place. You can't see them from the front at all (just try and find them in the picture above) This is the same way you'd put in an invisible zipper on a fancy dress.

On the back you can see the red stitches holding the barn in place:
Then I ironed the arrow in place (since it was done with the adhesive) and sewed it into place. Taking one final look to admire the block, I finally saw what I hadn't noticed before:
All those fabrics were carefully kept in the correct orientation only to have me put the rooster on upside down. Most of the fabrics don't matter, but you can see a few cows that now look like they are in Cirque du Soleil or something. Oh well. I got over it pretty quickly (mostly). I'm certainly not going to do anything about it. (It also means that my carefully thought out plan of "close" fields and "far" fields is totally screwed up.)

Besides that rather subtle detail, I am happy with how it turned out and think I have a good entry for the raffle quilt. I'm not going to crow about the certainty of its winning, but I feel that I've put in the best square I could. We'll see how it stacks up, or how the judges like it. (We haven't always seen eye to eye.)

Tune in in just a couple weeks, and I'll let you know!

ETA: When I showed this block to a group on Ravelry, someone kindly commented that they liked how I had mimicked the sunrise with the background blocks. That made me feel better about the upside down block. I guess I'll just go with that!

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