Monday, November 28, 2016

Two More Blocks

I've finished two more blocks for the spring-themed sampler afghan.  That brings the total of finished blocks to twenty, which was my goal-- but now that I've laid them all out together, I've decided to make four more, for a 4 x 6 layout instead of the 4 x 5 I was originally planning.  So I need to make four more blocks, on the double!

I've started the first of the Final Four, and I've also begun considering the joining and border. Since each block has its own border, I'll probably use a simple slip-stitch join.  As for the whole-blanket border, I've marked several possible options in Edie Eckman's Around the Corner Crochet Borders.  (These are affiliate links, by the way, as are the clickable book-cover photos.)

Side-ramble:  I love that book, by the way, and highly recommend it to anyone who crochets many afghans-- and you can use the patterns for edging any project, of course, not just blankets.

While looking up that link, I just saw that Edie Eckman has another book of edgings coming out early in 2017-- Every Which Way Crochet Borders.  (It's already available for pre-order, and there's a nice, juicy preview of the book on Amazon.)  There are some real lookers on the cover, and it's spiral-bound, which is great for books of crochet or knitting patterns.  Spiral-bound books stay open on their own much better than most other bindings, which is very helpful when you're using both hands for crocheting. ;o)

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Time for photos of the latest afghan blocks!

The Excellent Beauty of Spring:

"Excellence in Beauty" Afghan Block

Pattern:  "Beauty in Excellence", by Margaret MacInnis
(available to purchase on Ravelry)

"Excellence in Beauty" Afghan Block

This one was a bit trickier than I'd expected.  Maybe it was just me, but I had trouble understanding exactly how to make the "X stitch"-- where/how to place the stitches.  I think it worked out ok, though, and I do like the scallops and the trellis effect of the interconnecting X stitches.

I changed things up a few times-- mainly by crocheting in the "back bump" (as opposed to the back loop) for a couple of rounds.

Fantastic Spring:

"Fantastic" Afghan Block

Pattern:  "Fantastic!", by Julie Yeager
(pattern available for purchase on Ravelry, or free on the designer's blog)

"Fantastic" Afghan Block

This pattern reminds me of something I've crocheted before... Maybe these dish scrubbers?  Anyway, the central motif is a fairly straight-forward "fan and fpdc" starburst.  Quite pretty, with lots of room for variation, depending on which colors you choose and where/how you use them.  I decided to change colors just about every round.  More ends to weave, but it's worth some extra effort to get the look you want.

And here's a peek at the latest block, which is still a work in progress:

"FIrenze" Afghan Block (WIP)

It's nearly ready for the "Canada Geese" border, so it's not too soon to pick out the next pattern!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Two More Sampler Squares (and Crumb Blocks)

I have two more sampler afghan blocks to share today!

Maude in Spring:

"Maude" Afghan Block

Pattern:  "Maude", by Polly Plum
(paid pattern, available on Ravelry)

This felt like a fairly complicated pattern, in places, but as usual with Polly Plum patterns, the instructions are extremely detailed, which helps.  The "woven corners" (Rnd 8) are particularly tricky, but it's possible to leave them un-woven, if you prefer.

I changed things slightly to get my block to the right size to match my other sampler blocks.  (Details on my project page, linked above the last photo.)

Tons of scope for playing with colors here.

"Maude" Afghan Block

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Springtime Victor:

"Victor" Afghan Block

Pattern:  "Victor", by Polly Plum
(free pattern, available here on the designer's website,

This is a pretty block-- and it's free!  When it was first released, it was only a 9-inch block, but the designer has since added a free 3-inch border, which was a happy surprise.  (I was expecting to have to improvise to get the block up to size.)  This border may not be quite so eye-catching as some of the borders featured in Polly Plum's "Lovestruck Collection" (which includes a few of the patterns I've already crocheted for this afghan), but I think it's interesting-- simple, but attractive, with quite a bit of textural appeal.

I used one round of dc instead of the last two rounds of the built-in border (to get the block to the correct/matching size).

This pattern can look very different depending on color placement.  I think my colors, this time, ended up looking a little busy and ineffective, but I wanted to squeeze in as many of the sampler colors as possible... And it will be fine, mixed in with all the other blocks.  It's not bad, just not the best it could've been-- but they can't all be my favorite, I guess.

"Victor" Afghan Block

I only need two more blocks to reach twenty!  I'm crocheting "Beauty in Excellence" next.

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I've been procrastinating starting my next sewing project, so in the meantime, I'm just playing around with crumb blocks.  I think I mentioned before that I decided to increase the size of the crumb blocks, so I'm joining up the smaller ones and adding to them to bring them up to size.

I still don't have a very wide variety of small scraps, so the crumb blocks are a little more homogeneous and boring than I would like.  I probably won't make too many more until there are some new additions to the scrap box.

Crumb Blocks

Crumb Blocks

(Some of these fabrics look very wrinkled.  I did press them...)

Crumb Blocks

My next sewing project is partially sketched out.  The next step is to narrow down the fabric options to those I'll actually use, and then I can get started cutting fabric and making more half-square triangles!

Monday, November 7, 2016

My First Real Quilt!

I've completed my first "real" quilt!
(Though I like them, "rag quilts" aren't the same, in my opinion, as a REAL quilt.  I've made a few rag quilts, but this is the first blanket I've sewn with a pieced top, a backing, batting, quilting, and binding.)

I don't want to admit how long it took me, from start to finish-- so I won't!  Mom put together the kit for this string quilt years ago, as a birthday present.  It sat for a while until I decided I was brave enough to start working on it.  It's been a big learning experience, and as I approached each new step (joining blocks into strips, joining strips, making the "quilt sandwich", pin basting, machine quilting, binding), it went into time-out until I could muster up the courage for whatever came next.

No wonder it's taken so long!

But now that I have this little quilt under my belt, I feel much more confident and excited about turning my other quilt top into a finished quilt-- and (of course) working on piecing the next quilt top!  (Building the quilt top is definitely the most fun part of the process for me.  I enjoyed seeing the blanket come to completion, but the piecing was much more fun than the basting and quilting.)

Here are a few lessons, off the top of my head, that I'll take away from this experience:

--Polyester batting doesn't shrink with washing-- or at least doesn't shrink as much as cotton or cotton-blend batting can.  (Cotton shrinks the most, apparently.)  Batting shrinkage is what gives some quilts much of their "crinkled" look (though the quilting itself does some of it).  I like the crinkled look, so I'll be interested to try something different, another time. (This quilt's batting is 100% polyester, because I already had it, and it was the right size.)

--While assembling the quilt sandwich, it was easier to work on the vinyl floor than on wall-to-wall carpet.   For one thing, the pins caught the carpet a few times.  For another, on the vinyl, I could more easily (and securely) tape down the backing.  (Always tape down the backing.)

--If at all possible, make a tiny "quilt sandwich" of extra materials, to test the settings for stitch length, etc.

--Don't forget to increase the stitch length setting on the sewing machine when quilting.  I increased from 2.5 to 3.5, this time, and I wish I had increased it even further, or at least tested it at a higher setting.

--Machine quilting tires out my shoulders!  Take it slow and easy, and don't expect to do it all in one session-- maybe not even all in one day, depending on the size of the blanket.

--It is very easy for the quilt to get hung up-- to weigh down-- to pull against the machine when quilting on a small, domestic sewing machine.  You might not notice right away, except that the stitches start getting too small/short.  Stop and adjust even more frequently than you think you need to, until you get into The Zone. ;o)

--When machine quilting, it is best to start in the middle and work your way out (first one side, then the other).  This time, I tried to cheat a bit by starting in the middle, then going out in larger increments (stitching in the ditch down each column), and finally going back to fill in the blocks with lines of quilting.  No, that was not a good idea.  (The quilt started puckering in a very unpleasant way.)  I ended up wasting lots of time-- picking out a few lines of quilting, repinning that section (as well as I could), and sewing it again.  Next time, I'll know better!

--I still need to work on my binding skills.  I have a tendency to pull the binding too far when I'm preparing to attach it to the back, which left the binding a little on the short side on the quilt front, this time.  It's okay, but I'd like a more even look, next time.  Maybe it would be a good idea to start with a 2.5" strip of fabric next time, instead of the even 2" I used for this quilt.  At least I could pin a scrap of fabric in place to get a feel for how it will look, before I decide one way or the other.

I'm sure there were more lessons, but that'll do. ;o)

Now for some photos!

Here it is after pin-basting.  I used a broken nut pick (the kind that comes with a nut cracker) as a makeshift "Kwik Klip" tool.  It worked pretty well, but I might try to cover part of it with polymer clay before basting my next quilt.  A small crochet hook might also work well, though I'd want to use one I didn't particularly care about, because using it this way might scratch and mar the finish, making it less useful for crocheting.  (Or you could just buy the real thing.  They're less than $10, so not a huge investment, but hey, that's money that could go toward fabric, batting, or some other, more exciting tool/notion!)

String Quilt WIP

For future reference, the batting is Poly-Fil Traditional Batting, 100% polyester-- only the cheapest best for my first real quilt. ;o)  Hey, it's non-allergenic and made in the USA!  But seriously, it worked just fine, and based on the few reviews I've read, it sounds like it should hold up pretty well.  I'm satisfied, so far.

Here it is all ready to quilt!

String Quilt WIP

So then I quilted it (straight lines on the sewing machine), trimmed the excess batting and backing, and made and applied the binding (from the same fabric as the backing).

Because I wasn't sure how much it might "change" (crinkle, shrink, bleed) after washing and drying, I decided to take some "before" photos.  I ended up with quite a few of them...

String Quilt (Before Washing)

String Quilt (Before Washing)

String Quilt (Before Washing)

String Quilt (Before Washing)

String Quilt (Before Washing)

String Quilt (Before Washing)

Here it is with one corner flipped back to show the backing, which is a polka-dotted sheet passed along to me from Mom. :o)

String Quilt (Before Washing)

After its trip through the washer and dryer, it was ready for another quick photo shoot.  (I really need to find a better way to photograph blankets-- both quilts and afghans...  I'm taking the lazy way out, lately; they could look so much better!)

As you can see, it didn't change a whole lot after washing/drying, but maybe there is a slight increase in "crinkliness"...  Quilting it more densely would also have made a difference, wouldn't it?  But of course, the more it crinkles/shrinks, the smaller the quilt becomes. (g)  I guess you need to take all that into consideration, if you're particular about the finished size...

String Quilt -- Finished

String Quilt -- Finished

String Quilt -- Finished

String Quilt -- Finished

String Quilt -- Finished

String Quilt -- Finished

String Quilt -- Finished

So there it is, my first REAL quilt!  I know it's not perfect, but I'm happy with it, and I'm looking forward to snuggling under it when the weather turns cooler.

Now that I know I can make something resembling a quilt, I'm excited to try it again!

Two More Sampler Blocks (and Crumb Quilting)

Two more blocks done for the sampler!  That makes a total of sixteen.

First, it's the one I "sneak-peeked" last time:

"Lise in Spring"

"Lise" Afghan Block

Pattern:  Lise, by Polly Plum
(pattern available for free on Ravelry)

The clever construction is easier than it may appear.  There's lots of opportunity for color play, as well as good textural interest.

I left off a round or two to get it to match my existing sampler blocks in size.  Fortunately, all the most interesting parts of the original pattern fit into this slightly smaller version.

"Lise" Afghan Block

Second, it's "Floral Dimension of Spring":

"Floral Dimensions" Afghan Block

Pattern:  Floral Dimension, by Laurie Dale
(pattern available for free on Ravelry)

There are quite a variety of stitches and techniques in this one!  I particularly like the "bumps" (Rnd 3) and the scallops.  I made a few changes (see my project page link above for details), but kept the central motif as written.

"Floral Dimensions" Afghan Block

At this point, I could call it done and join the blocks with a 4x4 layout; however, I think I'd prefer 4x5, so I still have four blocks to go.  Then I'll lay them all together again and see if it's good as it is or if I should go for 4x6 blocks instead.  (And if I have enough yarn to do so.)

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I've been crocheting a doily, too-- "Captivating", by Patricia Kristoffersen.  The part I'm on now is very repetitive, but that makes it a good project for TV-watching/listening.

The sewing machine has also been been stretching its legs.  I pulled out my crumb quilt supplies (and some rolls of "strings" to supplement the "crumbs") and have been playing around a little.

Playing with Crumbs and Scraps

Back when I started piecing crumb blocks, I was making them very small-- 5.5" squares.  Now I've rethought it and am making them 12.5" squares, instead.  That seems more manageable a size for dealing with, when it comes time to join them.  I'm connecting some of the smaller squares as I go, and they'll gradually be incorporated into some of these larger blocks.

Playing with Crumbs and Scraps

It's kind of messy-looking, but it's practice with the machine, and I think it will make an interesting quilt, in the end.  I like the fact that you don't need a plan-- don't have to measure-- don't even need to think much.  Just sit down and sew  and use up scraps--  and see what happens.

I returned to this on-going, mindless sewing project after trimming the last loose threads on... my first real quilt!  Yes, I finally finished something.  ;o)  It needs to go on its maiden voyage through the washing machine, still, but once it does, I'll be blogging about it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Two More Done and One on the Way!

Here are another two completed blocks for the on-going sampler afghan!

First, up, "It's Spring in June Somewhere...":
(I'm giving all my blocks names with some reference to spring, since springtime pastels were my inspiration for this sampler.  Technically, June is considered part of spring, in many parts of the world, but around here, it's usually feeling more like summer by June-- hence that silly name.)

"June" Afghan Square

Pattern:  June, by Polly Plum
(paid pattern, available on Ravelry)

I really like the starry look of the overlapping front-post stitches.  Puff stitches still aren't my favorite to make, but I think these turned out well enough.  I like the look of puff stitches-- particularly when other people are the ones who have to make them. ;o)

I made a couple of small changes from the pattern as written, detailed on my Ravelry project page.

"June" Afghan Square

Next, "Springtime Sun-Catcher":

"Sun Catcher" Afghan Square

Pattern:  Sun Catcher, by Julie Yeager
(available for free on Ravelry)

The "overlay" look makes this block appear much more difficult than it really is.  I'm happy with how it turned out-- very highly textured.

Many people have made this pattern with "stained glass" colors (usually with black or another dark color where I used pink).  It could be fun to make a stained-glass-inspired afghan, sometime.

I made a couple of deviations from the pattern.  Aside from adjusting the final rounds to make the block match my other sampler squares, I added a disc of crochet to cover what would otherwise have been a fairly lacy, open center of the block.  I'm avoiding larger "holes" in the fabric as much as possible, and I thought this would do the trick.  I'm still not sure I love the addition of the circle, but it's not bad.  I think it'll be alright.

"Sun Catcher" Afghan Square

My current block is another from Polly Plum-- "Lise".

It's not nearly finished, yet, but here's a snapshot of the progress thus far:

"Lise" Afghan Block

What will be next?
The fact that I'm trying to find less lacy/holey blocks makes it a little more difficult to find enough blocks that I want to make, but they're out there.  Maybe I'll try "Maude" next.  Or "Floral Dimension"... I also have my eye on "Beauty in Excellence".

If this does turn out to be a twenty-block afghan, there are several more spots to fill!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Three More Afghan Blocks

After completing the ogee-motif afghan (no new photos to share, yet), I pulled the spring-hued afghan back out of temporary storage.

It is fun to work on, though I don't love trying to get all the blocks to the same size.  When I lay them out, it's clear that I've failed in that goal, once or twice.  I hope they'll work together well enough, once joined, but there have been times when I've left off rounds that it now looks like I could actually have used, after all.  (Oops.)

That little difficulty aside, I enjoy making samplers.  There's no risk of getting bored, and you can work with more complicated, involved blocks without worrying about how you'll manage crocheting a whole blanket's worth of them.  All you have to do is make it through this one time, then you're off to the next pattern.  Of course, that also means that you can't ever completely relax-- not in the way that you can when you're making dozens of the same small motif and have every line of the pattern completely memorized.  It's a trade-off.

So, here are my latest completed blocks!

"Ilsa" Crochet Block

"Ilsa in Spring"
Pattern: Ilsa, by Polly Plum
(paid pattern, available on Ravelry)

This design is beautiful, and the pattern is very clearly written.  (I've had good luck with all of the Polly Plum patterns I've tried, so far.)  I think it's one of the designer's most popular patterns, and it's easy to see why.

I left off a couple rounds of the 3-inch border portion of the 12-inch block in an effort to match the other blocks.

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"How I Wonder" Crochet Block

"How I Wonder in Spring"
Pattern:  How I Wonder, by Polly Plum
(paid pattern, available on Ravelry)

Again, I left off a couple of rounds to get it to the size to match my other blocks for this sampler afghan.

Five-pointed stars are fairly unusual in crochet afghan blocks, since even numbers (four, six, eight) are easier to work into a square. The odd-numbered points are distinctive.

You need to pay very close attention to the pattern in round 10, but apart from that, most of it was fairly intuitive-- not one of those where every single round has a high level of difficulty.

The star stitch frame is a nice touch. Going through the mini tutorial, I felt that it might take a while to get the hang of it, but it actually isn’t that complicated. There’s a definite rhythm to it, which makes it easier to memorize.

I thought I might need to go up a hook size on the star stitch, because at first it tended to work tighter than the rest of the block, but in the end, it stretched and evened out. If it’s too tight the next time I make this block, I’ll definitely consider swapping hooks just for the star stitch portion.

(My eye is drawn to a minor finishing flaw, now that I've taken the photo... It's nothing too terrible-- just a slightly annoying bump on the top edge of the lime green-- the right side of the uppermost "arm" of the star. The ends are already woven in, but I'll probably unpick it and try to finish it more neatly.  It shouldn't take too long to fix, in any case.)

This was fun to crochet, and I like my results!  This would make a very cute afghan for a baby or young child.

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"Star-Crossed" Crochet Block

"Star-Crossed Spring"
Pattern:  Star Crossed, by Helen Shrimpton
(Free on the designer's website!)

I substituted a round of sc for the last three rounds, to get the block to match my others for this sampler afghan.

This is a pleasing pattern with a highly textured central motif that can pass for either a star or a flower, depending on your need and color choices. I added a little surface crochet to spice it up and to help work in/balance all the colors I'm using in my sampler.  (The added lime is just sc on top of the brown. The pink in the center is two rounds of single crochets on top of the “spokes” of the first round, with 3-chain picots in between each single crochet.)

The center of the block is bowing/cupping just a little bit, at times--  but it's not too bad, and I hope that might lessen once the blocks are joined together.  It's no worse than the center of the star in "How I Wonder", which also tends to "poof out" slightly.

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That's twelve so far, for this sampler afghan, and I'm already working on the thirteenth block.  I'm not sure how many more blocks I'll make... At a minimum, it will be sixteen, but I'm thinking it might end up being twenty.

More photos as the remaining blocks come off the hook!  :o)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Pretty AND Useful!

What's that in the little glass jar on my sewing table?

So colorful... Could it be hard candy?

"Craft Clips"

Well, it could be candy, but it's not.

It's a hundred little plastic and metal clips!  In a variety of colors (red, blue, yellow, pink, purple, and green)!

"Craft Clips"

Let's pour a few out for a closer look...  (For reference, the larger grid underneath them marks inches.)

Ok, very nice-- but what are they for?

"Craft Clips"

They're Embroidex "Sewing Quilting Craft Clips".  (That's an affiliate link to Amazon.)  If you're a quilter (or someone else who sews), you've likely seen them before, but if not, the brief explanation is that you can use them in place of standard straight pins to hold layers of fabric together for sewing.

Here's the bag they came in.  It's resealable and fairly sturdy, but I wanted them in something more permanent, thus the glass jar.

"Craft Clips"

These clips are advertised for use in other crafts, too, but so far, I've only used them with fabric.

I decided to take a chance on them, and I'm glad I did.  They were perfect for holding the binding on that little table runner project from a couple posts ago, and I've also used them to hold together strips of string quilt blocks that needed seaming together in the sewing machine.  (Unless I specify otherwise, always assume that anything I sew is on the machine.  (g) I'm probably one of the world's slowest hand-stitchers.)

The clips made a nice change from pins (no risk of pricked fingers!) and personally, I think they worked just as well as pins would have--  maybe even better.  In the case of the binding, pins would've been much harder to use, I'm convinced.

A hundred clips for just shy of $13 seems like a good price for these, too-- especially when you look at the price of some of the smaller packs of similar clips.  I haven't used those other brands, so I can't make a side-by-side comparison, but if you look at the reviews on Amazon, some people have compared them and decided that these are just as good.

(Note: There are other clips that look about the same at a slightly lower price, but I decided to go with the Embroidex clips, because they had so many positive reviews.  If I find I want more clips, I'll look again and see if the competitors have racked up enough reviews to boost my confidence in them.)

These are a recommended little splurge for quilters.  I'm sure there are many circumstances in which pins will still be the better option.   For example, one recent reviewer commented that the clips weighed down her lightweight fabric as it went through the sewing machine.  They seem light to me, but they will be heavier than two very light, small pieces of cotton.  For piecing, they might not always be ideal, but for heavier projects and stages of projects-- like applying binding-- they work very well.

I'm happy to have these in my sewing toolbox!