30 January 2008

mother blogs: quilted oven mitts

Hello! I'm still here. In the chill of winter I've actually been doing a lot of crafting, so I'll be trying to post about some of it over the next few days. There's a quilt in progress, and a new embroidery project, and some also clothes-sewing. (Have you seen the new Simplicity line of Project Runway patterns? I find this very exciting. I've already made a dress. More on that soon.)

I asked my mom to do a little guest-blogging because she made us the most incredible oven mitts ever for Christmas. (that sounds a little funny. best. oven. mitts. EVER. But it's true. Trust me.) So without further ado, here's the super-talented marmee:

I decided on a trip to visit the girls in July that I’d try to make Christmas gifts this year, and at the same time try to learn to machine quilt.

I’d bought Harriet Hargrave’s Heirloom Machine Quilting and had read it, but I’d never dropped the feed dog on my machine or done anything with a darning foot before.

So I thought I would try stitching around the designs on fabric first to see if I could learn in baby steps. Tracing was always a big save for me in art projects – I can copy almost anything!

Julie gave me some charming retro kitchen fabric that she’d been saving in her stash, and we picked out a gold cotton for binding. [The cool retro print was purchased from Superbuzzy. Looks like they're out of the blue, but still have it in light brown.]

The first issue was what batting to use. Julie said she’d seen a reference to insulated batting on some of the blogs she reads, so I dived into Google and came up with Insulbright. I used two thicknesses of cotton quilt batting (I bought a crib bat) and then one layer of Insulbright, and used a cotton duck that matched the background for the reverse. It was quite a sandwich.

I started sewing on the motifs at the center, working out toward the edges. As my book had suggested, I tried using my fingertips on both sides of the fabric to guide the fabric under the needle to “trace” the design with the sewing machine. At first I went through a ton of thread and made tiny, tiny stitches, but as I continued I was able to push the material faster and gain more confidence that I wasn’t going to fail to follow the pattern.

I also cheated (I am old enough to be entitled to cheat, I’ll have you know) because I used a Daylight lamp with a 5-inch diopter magnifying lens, which I shoved right in front of the needle. It made it a lot easier to see what I was doing.

It took a lot of time, but I find any kind of repetitive work like this soothing. We turned up the Big Band/Swing on the house stereo system, and I sat there and quilted. Is it because it’s sort of meditative? I don’t know – but I get a lot of thinking done when I do stuff like this.

Plus I really liked the way it turned out.

Then it was time to do gifts for everybody else in the family.

For my sister and sister-in-law, I used Moda quilting fabrics – I love the prints and the feel of the fabric. My sis has an elegant Provencal kitchen, so I used this brown paisley print with a smaller companion print on the back, and a third print for the binding. I also made a set for my sister-in-law, using some complementing Moda prints in blue.

Now to make some mitts and potholders for me! I’m my toughest client, that’s for sure, and I’ve been looking for something in blue and natural that will go with the Silestone countertops I got last Christmas. I think Julie found me the right fabric, though – this new Williamsburg quilt fabric she saw at PurlSoho’s website. I’ve never been big on birds, but I think I can center my design to focus on the flowers, not the birds. If my local quilt shop ever gets the blue back in stock, that is.

In the meantime, the girls gave me a wonderful gift: a machine quilting class, with them, in February. Something to look forward to, for sure!

From Julie: The mitts really are amazing. They are perfect in my tiny kitchen. And they are just so perfectly detailed. Now you know where my perfectionism comes from...it runs a bit rampant in our family!

Mama, you forgot to mention the great dishtowels you made to match! Yes, that's right. I have matching homemade dishtowel oven-door hangy things. Mom bought a single handtowel, cut it in half, and attached tops and tabs to them. Love.

Thanks mama for blogging!! xo

01 January 2008

brother blogs

Lest Julie and Twin retain their monopoly on thoughtful handmade gifts, their brother decided to build his girlfriend a jewelry box for Christmas, and Julie was kind enough to ask him to guest-blog about it.

The main box is made of cherry and measures 16” wide by 10” deep and about 4 1/2” high. The inside is lined with 1/4”-thick curly maple (a really cool wood with a distinctive figure that’s often used in musical instruments, particularly guitars) that I stained golden yellow to complement the dark red cherry. In the bottom of the box, the lining serves as a shelf for two removable trays, which sit just above (or “proud of” in woodworking-speak) the seam between box and lid. The lid is a simple raised panel with an unassuming 5/16” brass pull.

The design is largely based on an article from Fine Woodworking, available here with a subscription. I omitted several details, most noticeably the 1/8” hand-cut dovetails with mitered corners, which struck me as needlessly over-engineered and impossible for a woodworking mortal to build. (I admit the latter consideration was more important.)

I added a few details of my own: in addition to selecting different lumber, I used side rail hinges that screw into the sides of the box and have stays to keep the lid from opening past 95 degrees. They were a pain to install, but they’re much more mechanically stable than the itty-bitty box hinges with positive stops the FW author screwed precariously into the rear edge of his box. It’s simple physics: a box whose lid is attached with a stopped hinge behaves like a lever, so a light push on the top of the open lid produces a much larger force on the hinged joint. The hinges I used will withstand a lot more force before the screws fail or--worse yet--the wood into which they’re secured splinters out.

I also designed dividers for the trays and put fabric-covered foam inserts in the bottom of each compartment, a detail that makes the box a lot more useful and nicer to look at.

First, the divided trays: after laying out a sensible arrangement on graph paper, I cut the dividers to length from one-inch wide cherry that I planed to the same thickness as the kerf (i.e., blade width) of my tablesaw (about 1/8”). That way, the horizontal dividers could be interlocked with the vertical ones using notched half-lap joints cut on the tablesaw, which makes them more sturdy and easier to keep square during assembly. (An overview of the basic technique is available here. But one note of caution: the joints should fit tightly, and 1/8” stock is very easy to split if you’re not careful putting the pieces together.)

I prefinished the components before final assembly and then secured them into the trays with simple yellow glue. This process wasn’t as difficult as it looks, although it did require careful setup and accurate cutting.

Once the divided trays were built, I set about finding a way to line them with fabric. The technique described below is a variation of the one presented here. I settled on faux suede in a shade of green that looked nice with the wood. (I wanted something with a nap, but real suede is purported to tarnish silver and I didn’t think it would be as easy to work with.)

So that each compartment would have a cushioned surface, I cut padded inserts out of a product called Darice Foamies, which are 2mm thick foam pads with paper backing, available at Michael’s for around $0.80 per 8 1/2” x 11” sheet.

I cut the foam pads just slightly smaller than the compartments, leaving a gap of about 1/32” on all four sides so they’d fit snugly after being covered with fabric.

After the foam inserts were cut to size, I retained the services of a sewing / fabric consultant known on this blog as Marmee for instruction on how to create a pattern for cutting the fabric. (The two trays are divided into 28 compartments, but there are only four unique shapes, so making a pattern for each shape saves time).

Here’s the basic procedure: first, cut a piece of paper to just under twice the width and about one-and-a-half times the length of a foam insert. Place the foam insert in the center of the paper and trim the corners of the pattern off at 45 degrees, leaving about 1/16” between each corner of the insert and the angled edge of the pattern. The idea is to wrap the fabric around the insert like an envelope so the foam is completely covered and the fabric doesn’t bunch up sloppily at the corners or underneath.

Once all the cutting has been done, assembly is easy: just coat the back of each insert and its fabric cover with spray adhesive, move them to a clean surface, and fold the fabric around the four edges of the foam insert. If you’ve measured and cut everything carefully, the pieces should fit snugly in their compartments and won’t need to be glued in. I didn’t make the inserts permanent because I wasn’t sure how well they’d hold up over time and I wanted them to be removable so they could be replaced easily.

From Julie: How cool is my big bro? It's really even more gorgeous in person. I've put in an order for a box of my own, though I don't know when I'll get it... ;) Although the lovely recipient of this jewelry box certainly deserves it, both for putting up with my brother and for being such a sweet person.