Wednesday, March 30, 2011

minecraft golden apple block

Here's a quick rainy day project I did for S, who loves a game called Minecraft.

We were looking at objects in the game and came across the Golden Apple. S remarked that it was a very rare but good find, as it restores all your health.

Doesn't that sound like something from a fairy tale? Find the Golden Apple, and all will be restored! I envisioned a little quilt block in the shape of a Golden Apple, something an ailing child could lie upon to feel better.

[Note to self: next time, learn about the game before making fairy tale assumptions. Partway through the pillow, I casually asked S, "Why would you need your health restored in a game?" He looked at me incredulously and said, in a tone one might use to explain why we wear coats in winter: "ZOMBIES, Mom."]

I thought this project might be useful to someone else who might also want to create a quilt block from a simple, pixelated icon. So here's how the Golden Apple was pieced.

I started by enlarging the icon to a size I could work with, like so:
For a block in the 6-8" range, the basic unit would be 1/2" square. Since quilting has 1/4" seams, we need to add 1/2" to every finished dimension. In other words, a 4-block piece would measure 1" square in the quilt, but would need to be cut at 1-1/2" in order to have 1/4" seams on every side.

This is how I diagrammed it. (Sorry about the sloppiness and water drops. It wasn't my intention to blog this when I started.) The block is divided into 6 rows, each row the height of its largest component. I changed how I pieced it as I went along. All that really matters is that it be divided into rows which are sewn together afterwards.
Here is an example of how Row 4 would be cut and pieced.
Notice how much it has shrunk in width. Six seams means it was diminished by 3" (1/4" on each fabric edge, or 1/2" per seam).

With each row in place, it soon looked like an apple, albeit a little elongated due to seam allowances not yet sewn.
A few borders, and it became a pillow front:
Having those narrow 1/4" seams rubbing against the pillow made me a little uneasy, so I cut a backing of muslin to the size of the pillow front and machine quilted around the black outline. You could put a piece of thin batting in between the pillow front and the backing. You could also quilt inside the apple. But without some quilting, it's likely to fall apart over the course of several washings.
This is how you lay the pieces for a simple envelope opening. The outside/top flap will go on first, and the inside/lower flap goes on next, both of them with right sides facing down toward the right side of the pillow top. I've offset the inside/lower flap a little to the right so that the order is more visible.
A quick stitch around the entire perimeter, turn it right side out, and it can be filled with an inexpensive pillow form from Ikea. S can now use it in event of the zombie apocalypse.

Monday, March 28, 2011

larger quarters

Tiny tailfeathers:
And a tiny proto-comb:
We've been dealing with some pasty butt (I've linked to a page explaining it, but if you're sensitive, you may want to skip it) in a couple of the chicks. Last night I sat down and performed the unglamorous job of unplugging the Rhode Island Red; another chick will get a simple cleaning today. Her health is not at stake, whereas I was becoming concerned about the Red.

Over the weekend we scrounged some cardboard cartons from a local business and set up a larger environment for them. This looks crazy, but it should keep them from perching or flying over the edge once they're teens.
This morning, we moved them in.
And now they really have room to grow.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

chick update

The chicks are growing quickly, going from little round balls of fluff to slightly more stretched-out birds with lengthening necks and a few more wing feathers. I wanted to document the development from amorphous fuzz to the beautiful feather patterns of the Barred Plymouth Rock and the Silver Laced Wyandotte.

Barred Plymouth Rock, 3 or 4 days old

Barred Plymouth Rock, about one week old

Silver Laced Wyandotte, 3 or 4 days old

Silver Laced Wyandotte, about one week old
After our first heat lamp blew, we got a fixture with a red-colored bulb. It doesn't have the glaring brightness, which is nice for the birds but not so nice for trying to capture them on video. But you can see that they are active, pecking and scratching and moving around a lot. These are all good signs.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

new chicks

S, age 3-ish, with a newly hatched chick
We haven't had new chicks in a long while. The last batch we got, 3 years ago, came during a distracted period in our house; and we relied on a good friend to start them for us. Previous to that, we'd had a fairly steady combination of new chicks hatched here and hens we adopted from people who had given up chicken keeping for one reason or another.

This year, Jake of Tour de Cluck put me in contact with some people who were organizing a chick purchasing co-op. The minimum order from most hatcheries is 25 chicks. Our city has a limit of 6 hens per household, so combining orders is a way to get a specific mix of breeds in smaller numbers.

The chicks arrived yesterday morning with feathers beginning to show at their wingtips—if memory serves, that would put them at 3-4 days old.
a little Rhode Island Red
We brought them home to our set up consisting of an old rabbit cage, a heat lamp, a chick waterer and feeding tray. They are on the workbench near a window so sunlight can reach them during the day.
A blanket adds insulation, and hay makes a nice floor and bedding material. For the first few days, we want to keep the chick environment at around 90 degrees. We'll gradually lower that, as their feathers come in, by raising the heat lamp and pulling away the blanket.
Here are the chicks:
To the left is a Buff Orpington. In front of her, a Silver Laced Wyandotte. Right in the center, facing left, is an Ameraucana (a mutt which has the dominant trait of laying blue-green eggs). And just to her right, a little toward the rear, is the Rhode Island Red. Another Wyandotte is front right, and another Buff is at the right edge of the picture. The black one in back is a Barred Plymouth Rock.

S, now much older than he was in the top photo but still a softie when it comes to baby animals, picked out a fluffy Buff Orpington.
This breed is my favorite, as well. They tend to be gentle and easy going, lay large brown eggs, and are themselves plump and hardy.

Ameraucanas, by comparison, despite laying those beautiful green eggs, are usually skittish birds who only lay well for the first year or so.

But I can't resist a pastel green egg, and C asked specifically for more Ameraucanas this year.

The breed that is new to me is the Wyandotte. I've always loved their feather patterns and decided to take advantage of the purchasing co-op to get a few. I'll try to post pictures here as the feathers grow in.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

star quilt: finishing the top

This evening I made a change to my post on homemade fabric starch after more experience with it.

And as for the star quilt, here is what happened today.

First two inner border strips:
And the next two:
The second border:
And at last the star quilt top is finished, after 17 years of false starts and meanderings.
It may disappear from the blog for awhile, while we order fabric for the backing and decide how to use it. If you have experience working with Minky, I'd love to hear from you.

star quilt: homemade fabric starch

There is a question of prewashing fabrics before putting them in a quilt. I used to do it without question. Then Diana, the friend with the 301, mentioned that she never prewashes fabric. The sizing aids in precision cutting and piecing, she said, and when the quilt is washed, any shrinkage just gives it an old-fashioned quilted look.

So I stopped prewashing.

Recently, though, another friend emphasized that she always prewashes her quilting fabrics—argh! I decided to look into it.

It seems that, beyond the shrinkage question, there is some concern about fabric dyes bleeding out into lighter colors during the first wash. If that bleeding happens after the quilt is already together, all your hard work is ruined.

There is also the question of different fabrics shrinking in different degrees.

This quilt was started so long ago that I had prewashed most of the fabrics. Only the last few squares were made with fabric that I didn't bother to wash. Perhaps a goofy, misshapen quilt is in the future but at this point, if it's a finished quilt of any kind, I'll be happy.

My border fabrics have been sitting around long enough that they were also prewashed, except for the yellow. So I washed and dried that to match.

And then, doing some more reading, decided to starch the fabric to put back some of the stiffness that washing took away. I learned at this point that starch, being edible, will attract silverfish and other critters. A tradeoff that is mitigated by, yes, washing the quilt after it's been pieced.

On the plus side, it is easy to make homemade spray starch. There are many recipes. I chose the simplest, which made just enough to fill the spray bottle I had on hand. For future reference, I listed the ingredients on the side of the bottle. Some day I may make a cute little recipe label, but this is adequate for now.
Homemade Fabric Starch
Dissolve 1 Tbs. cornstarch in 1 pt. cool water. Bring to a boil, stirring or whisking to dissolve cornstarch completely. Let cool, then add 2-3 drops lavender essential oil and pour into a spray bottle. 
You can add more cornstarch if you want a stiffer fabric. The original recipe called for lemon juice, which I changed to lavender, as lavender is a natural insect repellent. Maybe this will compensate for any starch that happens to remain after washing.

There are boiled and non-boiled versions. Being lazy and impatient, I made a non-boiled version first, and it worked nicely the first day with a little shaking now and then.

However, after it sat overnight, the cornstarch was a solid mass on the bottom of the bottle. It struck me that I had just made a bottle of Oobleck! Trying to loosen the cornstarch, I ended up tapping the bottle so hard that the plastic cracked.

I decided at that point to boil the rest and sure enough, the cornstarch dissolved completely without any subsequent settling out. This is the recipe I would recommend and will use from now on. Boiling and cooling didn't add that much time in the end.

So there you have it:

Step One: Prewash fabric to shrink and remove excess dye.

Step Two: Spray with homemade starch during ironing to put back sizing elements lost during washing.

Step Three: Quilt as usual.

Step Four: Wash quilt to remove starch from Step Two so quilt won't be attractive to bugs.

Or, if you love the simple, unfussy life: don't prewash, assume that shrinkage will only emphasize the stitches and enhance the loveliness of the quilt, and use this at first washing.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

star quilt: planning the borders

C doesn't sleep with a lot of bedding, so this quilt will instead be something he can wrap in while reading or watching a movie on a winter night. But the center block section is only 3'X4', which is too small. Adding plain fabric borders is the easiest way to enlarge a quilt like this, so over breakfast with a couple of quilting friends this morning, I scratched out an idea.
This was to be a blue 3" border to float the star blocks in, a thin yellow border for contrast, and a wide, dark blue border to really give it some width. I knew I had fabrics at home which would work for this.

At home, I laid whole pieces of fabric on top of each other to see how it looked.
Answer: awful.

There were so many blues in the star block backgrounds that the single shade looked muddy and out of place. I wondered about using only the yellow and the dark celestial print. The yellow did pop the stars out and unified the blocks nicely, but with only two colors, the darker border would have to be disproportionately large. I also found it a little boring.
We were surprised to realize that we all liked this last version best. DH felt it was like looking into a cloudy night sky and on up to the stars.
I wouldn't have thought putting a blue against another blue would be the smartest choice but after all, this is a quilt of only two colors. So unless I have a change of heart overnight, that's the plan. Perhaps the next blog post will include a photo of the finished top. :)

Friday, March 4, 2011

star quilt: countdown

After piecing together these blocks one by one, I can tell you that each square entailed, after cutting a rough piece of background fabric and some lighter colored strips for the stars:

4 big slashes
9 seams
9 presses with an iron
and 20 trimming cuts

So it made me happy to realize that all it would take to put 48 blocks together was:

12 seams

Just 12 passes through the sewing machine, and I'd have the main part of the top pieced!

The first 5 seams would be stitching the columns to each other using the chain piecing technique.
Here they are sewn together. The rows are only connected via a bit of thread.
Clip the threads and you have 8 rows, each comprised of 6 connected blocks.
At this point, the seams are pressed flat so that the rows fit together more readily. Normally, you would press toward the dark fabric and not the light as I have done here; but the random block layout and the need to stagger the way the blocks are pressed caused there to be some variations.
Seams 6-9 involve sewing sets of rows together.
And seams 10-12 are a matter of sewing those sets to each other.
VoilĂ ! The main blocks put together with 12 seams. In theory, it could have been done with fewer, using more chain piecing and snipping; but this way I didn't have to worry about losing the arrangement.
All these 1/4" seams have shrunk the piece a few inches each way. It is now roughly 4'X3' and will need some borders if it is to be large enough to sleep under. Another drawback to working so slowly on a baby quilt: when the baby grows, the quilt has to grow, too!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

star quilt: using an old iron

C's baby quilt has had a few incarnations in its 17-year life. It started as a handsewn applique quilt on a bright pink background (I know: ewww).

When C was old enough to voice his opinion, he let me know that as long as I hadn't finished, he would rather have a quilt with "sparkly stars" on it. I began anew with some standard star blocks, and the project evolved from The Baby Quilt to The Star Quilt.

A couple years after that, I saw a star pattern that truly looked like it was sparkling, so ditched the old blocks to start over once again. With great optimism, I even purchased some fabric that was printed with "2000" because, I told C, that was the year by which he'd certainly have the finished quilt. We began calling it The Millennium Quilt.
Fast forward 11 years. Where does the time go? Well, I had another baby; we joined our local homeschooling community in earnest; and my quilting friends with whom I had been meeting monthly either moved away or had life changes that made it harder to get together. Or maybe the life changes were mine. I don't think there was any one reason in particular, but the Baby-Star-Millennium Quilt somehow took a backseat to other things for a long, long while.

However, I've been working on these blocks many afternoons in a row now, and this morning I woke feeling sure I would finish.

Except that the iron would no longer heat up.

From my fabric shelf, I pulled down a vintage Singer electric iron I'd found at a thrift store a few years ago. It's a tiny little thing, but heavy. A whopping 250 watts. Notice it not only has no fabric settings, it doesn't even have an on/off switch. Plug it in, and it starts to heat up.
Singer iron "Model T"
I figured it should work just fine. It did—maybe a little more than fine, in fact, because the fabric instantly scorched.
But sense memory came through again: as soon as I smelled that burnt-marshmallow scent, I remembered that Mom had always kept a folded, dampened cloth by her ironing. It both cooled the iron down and protected the piece from direct heat.
In this way, I was able to piece the last few stars. There are 48 total in this quilt, but I ended up with 15 extra blocks. As I went along, I could see that some of them just weren't going to make the cut. I love the celestial pattern in this background, but finally had to acknowledge that the fabric was too thin and flimsy:
And this background looks distractingly pale next to the other blocks:
These just came out ugly and misshapen:
And in some cases, I simply pieced too many of one shade:
I'll use the rejected blocks for other projects but meanwhile, here are the blocks that made it into the quilt. Arranging them was a little like doing a sudoku puzzle. No adjacent background fabrics could be the same.
After getting the fabrics lined up, I turned some of them around to give the quilt more twinkle. I hope these are the sparkly stars C had in his head when he was a little guy.
Next stage: putting the blocks together.

I'll be using the new iron I got as soon as I had time today. The little Singer can go back to its place on the shelf.
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