The better half

Love of gadgets should be in my blood. My mother is the gadget queen. She’s the woman who paid attention at the state fair to the guys selling the dust-grabbing brooms or the “miracle” slicers and dicers. She worked for a couple of years in a cooking shop and I swear none of her salary ever have left that place, but instead came home in the form of gadgets—we had tools Julia Child never dreamed of: graters, peelers, measuring devices, spreaders, and more, each featuring some little twist that made it better than anything you’d used before. Although she doesn’t cook much anymore, my mom is still a lover of sewing gadgets.

Yet I’ve never felt the same fondness for tools of the trade that she does. I’m not particularly mechanical and think that sometimes I get so caught up in trying to make a gadget work perfectly that I don’t actually get any sewing done. So I just use my tried and true methods, again and again.

Last fall I went with my neighbor Pam to the AQS show in Des Moines. Pam was in charge of the “Sewing Tools” demo for the quilt guild and so eagerly listened to the spiels at each booth. Where I would have just breezed through, checking out quilts and fabrics and publications, I hung in there with her. And along with Pam, I ended up buying the Clearly Perfect Angles (CPA) tool. (Just fyi: I have no affiliation with this company.)

In my previous post I mentioned learning nine ways to make half-square triangles. One of them involves drawing a line down the diagonal of one square, layering it atop another square, and then sewing two seams, each a quarter inch from the drawn line. You then cut the piece in half, along the line you’ve drawn and you’ve got two half-square triangles.

With the CPA, you apply an acrylic template to your machine bed and then just use the guidelines printed on it—no need to draw a line on the diagonal, just align your squares’ point with the line on the template, stich, turn it over and do the same on the other side of diagonal, and voilå (see, not mechanical…I can’t even get the correct accent over the “a”). I find that I use that nice line all the time, not just when I’m making half square triangles, and it helps me keep things nice and even. The photo at the top shows this most clearly.

I know it’s completely possible to use electrical tape to make a seam line on your machine bed, but I love the multiple lines on this thing. My only complaint is that the acrylic doesn’t adhere to the wooden portion of my sewing table. But for the most part, it’s great.

And I just checked their web site and they’re half-price right now. It might mean they’re about to release something newer and cooler, who knows? But I sure do enjoy this tool. And since I’ve embarked on a quilt that uses gazillions of half-square triangles, it’s been a real time-saver, making chain-piecing even quicker than it already is.

When the means justify the end…

I had some sewing time this past weekend, and rather than diving into my house quilt, I decided to wrap up some UFOs that had been lingering in my sewing room for months. Two baby quilt tops needed finishing and I enjoyed piecing together fabrics I had lying around to create ample-sized backs. (I’m waiting for a shipment of 505 Spray to sandwich them together. I’ll share them once they’re quilted.)

The other unfinished project I had was a table runner from a class sponsored by my local guild. In November I took part in a day-long workshop from Ilene Bartos, a teacher from Des Moines.

Now, I admit that I was not all that excited about this class. The finished project didn’t really excite me, but I know how hard the program committee members work to bring in a range of speakers and teachers, and how important it is that members attend. So in the name of supporting the guild and spending the day with some very nice women, I signed on.

The class was a reminder of something I touched on in my post on Mary Lou Weidman’s class. I’m a product-oriented person and at the end of my efforts I like to have a “thing” I can hold in my hand. 

I’m not good at leaving things unfinished: a realtor once told me, when I insisted on seeing every last house in my price range on the market, that I had the strongest “drive to completion” she’d ever seen. (I took it as a compliment, but in retrospect I think she was saying “Enough, already!”)

In that drive to completion, it’s easy for me to lose sight of the process. And I think that leads me to shy away from classes that features an “end product” I’m not in love with or that I think I might not be good at. 

This would be true with Mary Lou’s class: I think I can’t draw, so I wouldn’t be good at figurative quilts. But in that class I realized (duh!) that half the reason to take the class is to learn something new, to try a technique or color combination that takes me out of my comfort zone.

In the case of Ilene’s class, I wasn’t wild about the project and ultimately was not happy with my fabric choices (too many mid-range fabrics, with tiny patterns, that didn’t stand out from the overly busy background). But boy did I learn! 

The maple leaves in the runner were made using nine different techniques for creating half-square triangles. Now this may sound dull to some—and you know who you are, Anne K.—but I loved re-learning that there’s no one right way to do anything in quilting—there are myriad choices and it’s perfectly fine to do what suits you best. And I surprised myself by liking the bias method of making half-square triangles. My bias against bias comes from my early days of sewing, when I had to straighten my fabric by pulling a thread all the way across the weft—bias was just one of those scary things I didn’t really understand. How I hated all that fussiness. But this bias wasn’t at all tedious.

So, I’m not proud of the product I share with you…but I’m proud of the process. I also learned to couch a metallic thread, and while I’m not sure that I’ll be doing it again anytime soon, it’s taken the fear factor out of yet another term for me to have done it once.

Pearl wondered what the heck I was doing dragging quilt-y things out into the snow and refusing to let her play with them. So she watched from a safe place.

Matters of the heart

There’s still a little sewing time before Valentine’s Day, so here’s something you could try.

After my last post I got some very nice (and much appreciated) comments from readers. One of them was Carol, a quilter from Michigan who shares my fondness for making dolls and writing, among other things. I visited her blog, and just loved a recent post on using scraps to make a Valentine table runner.

I thought you’d enjoy seeing the wonderful results of her decision to clean up a scrap pile. While the post isn’t exactly a tutorial, it has some great photos of how to “make fabric” from scraps and the really cheery table runner that resulted. It’s a great idea with all sorts of applique, sashing, and border possibilities. Thanks so much Carol for sharing your work with Pearl the Squirrel readers!