I was so, so wrong

Do you ever spend six months working on a quilt project only to find that one of your basic assumptions was wrong?

I started my hexagon quilt last November and since I tend to plan everything out in Excel I used the grid to work out how many hexagons I would need. I know that when you are calculating how many blocks are in a given top the formula is the same as the one for square blocks on point — that is, xy + (x-1)(y-1). Unfortunately, calculating how many rings you need to make for a top is NOT the same for hexagons as it is for squares or diamonds. Surprisingly enough, the first ring is 6 blocks, not 4, and it goes up by 6 for each ring. Also you can’t fit as many hexagon rings into a top of a given size as you can square blocks.

In my previous calculations I believed that I would need 14 “rings”, plus the centre block, giving me a total of 365 blocks. However, I recently found some hexagon grids online and plotted the layout using the correct grid, and the result is very, very different. If I stick to the plan of applying each flower to a 3″ hexagon (finished size 6″ point to point, 5.25″ side to side), then I have two options, both of which give me a quilt top measuring roughly 75″ x 85″. [NB: each hexagon here represents the background square — the colours are just to help visualise the larger structure.]

Hexagon quilt plan 1
Hexagon quilt plan 1

The first option has each hexagon flower arranged vertically (points at north and south) with the rings oriented horizontally. This would require 257 blocks in 6 complete rings with partial rings in the corners, and the top size would be roughly 74″ x 87″.

Hexagon quilt plan 2
Hexagon quilt plan 2

The second option has the hexagon flowers arranged horizontally (points at east and west) with the rings oriented vertically. This option has 281 blocks in 8 complete rings with partial rings in the corners, and the top would be roughly 78″ x 89″.

Both options 1 and 2 could be made either as a complete top to be quilted, or as a “bind as you go” project (subject to finding backing fabrics that aren’t too jarring).

Virtual hexagon
Virtual hexagon

There is, however, a third option. If I attach a grey hexagon at each V in the flower, I get a “virtual” hexagon measuring 3″ on a side — the same as the appliqué block. I would need the same 281 flowers as for Option 2 but only a small fraction of the background fabrics. Placement of grey hexagons for the larger rings would require attention to detail so as not to get the fabrics in the wrong position, but it’s doable. It would mean a lot more hand sewing but that’s not a disincentive *g*.

Hmm … decision, decisions.

At the rate I’m sewing (wrists permitting) I should achieve 281 hexagon flowers by the end of July. That gives me nearly two months to think things over.

You know you have too much fabric when …

… you completely forget about two drawers of fat quarters.

In my defence, the drawers are situated under the cutting/ironing table, facing the fabric shelves, and I don’t see them as I walk by. I only remembered when I’d finished cutting strips off my recent FQ purchases and went to put them away.

I feel so stupid now.

The funny thing is that I had another “stupid me” post for today but this had to take precedence. You’ll get the other one tomorrow.

Fabric Haul

Rosemont The Patchwork Shop in Mogo, NSW is having a sale, with 20% off all fabric until 11 June. I haven’t been there in person in a long time (although I have made remote purchases) so I thought it was worth making the two-hour trip.

I bought 10 lovely fat quarters — I think they are all from the same range but I don’t know which one. They’ll make good hexagon flowers.

2023-06-01 Fat Quarters
Fat Quarters

Then I went a little overboard with the batiks (they have an amazing batik selection):

2023-06-01 batiks

Most of the cuts were 1 metre but there were some that only had a little bit left on the bolt so I took what was left (which was usually around 1.5 m). I didn’t need anything in the orange/red/brown range, having bought an abundance a few years ago in preparation for some autumn quilts, but as you can see I managed a good proportion of the colour wheel.

That takes care of the rest of 2023’s fabric budget … but I’m going to have such fun with these beautiful colours!

Jewel Box Door Quilt (a squirrel project)

Jewel Box Door Quilt detail

Size: 26″ x 74″ (66 x 188 cm)
Design: Traditional
Fabric: 100% cotton batiks (various manufacturers) and Emma Louise black solid
Batting: Matilda’s Own 100% cotton
Pieced: 23-25 May 2023
Machine: Janome Horizon MemoryCraft 9400 QCP
Basted: 26 May 2023
Quilted: 27 May 2023
Bound: 28 May 2023

The house I’m moving to in Tasmania was built c. 1910, with hardwood floors and two fireplaces. I love it but it has one significant drawback — all the bedroom doors have glass panels which let the light in. Consequently, I decided to make a quilt to cover the one in my door (I have a feeling I’ll be making more of them for my cousins once my machines are down there).

I needed a quick and easy pattern, one that was adaptable to the door’s dimensions. After reviewing various alternatives, I settled on the Jewel Box block in a 6″ size (unit size 1½”). Four blocks across and twelve blocks down give 24″ x 72″, and I added a 1″ border for the final dimensions. This pattern also made it very easy to quilt in straight diagonal lines.
Batik fabrics
I picked out 48 of my batiks and cut one 4″ x 8″ rectangle from each colour, sub-cutting it into one 4″ square and two 2″ x 4″ rectangles. I also cut 4″ and 2″ strips from the solid black. For once I actually cut the backing and border strips before the blocks so I have borders on the warp grain, which is important for a hanging quilt.
Four-patch construction
I put the batik and black squares together and sewed either side of a drawn line to get the half-square triangles. Instead of cutting individual black rectangles for the four-patch units I used a technique I’ve seen online (I can’t remember which channel) where I sewed the 2″ x 4″ batik rectangles to the 2″ strips. I pressed them, cut each rectangle apart, drew a line down the middle and stitched a scant quarter inch from the line. I re-cut them, pressed them and trimmed the excess black fabric.

Once I had my HST blocks sewn I played around with layout, since it was a lot easier to do it with 4″ squares than with the completed blocks.
First layout
I wanted a value gradient from light at the top to dark at the bottom. My first attempt wasn’t too bad, but when I checked the black and white version I found that it needed several adjustments. Unfortunately when I started making those adjustments I ended up with very similar colours next to each other, which I did not want.
Second layout

My second attempt also used a value gradient but this time I worked on the diagonal, from top left to bottom right, with colour groups also in diagonal lines. This worked much better. There are some anomalies in the bottom rows but I had fewer colour options by that stage and I ended up making only one change (I swapped blocks 3 and 4 in the bottom row). Once the layout was settled, I did the rest of the sewing, pressing and trimming (so much trimming!).
Rows upside down
I tried really hard to keep all the blocks in their proper places as I assembled them and put them together, but after I had pinned the rows I realised that I’d webbed each row upside down, so the value gradient runs from top right to bottom left and the long diagonal lines of colour aren’t as clear as I had intended. My wrists hurt and I was on a deadline so I didn’t re-do it, and now that I’ve got used to it I think it may look better this way rather than having long lines of the same colour running along the four-patch blocks.

I added a narrow black border (I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like attaching bindings directly to blocks — it’s too hard to coordinate all those points) and took it to my sewing friend’s place for basting. I managed to cut my backing an inch too short so we basted what we could and I added a strip to the bottom before quilting. Borders, backing and binding are all the Emma Louise black solid so it wasn’t much of a problem, except that I obviously wasn’t paying attention when cutting the backing.
Quilting detail
Quilting was simple diagonal lines done with the walking foot. I used the same black Rasant thread I’d used for construction along the black diagonals, and then two different Gütermann 30 wt cotton variegated threads for the coloured diagonals. To be honest I wasn’t very happy with the end result of the variegated thread for two reasons. Firstly, the thread is loosely spun and the thread ends unravelled very fast once cut, making burying threads a challenge requiring a large darning needle. Secondly, I think it takes the viewer’s attention away from the colours of the fabric. With so many different colours, though, the only viable alternative was monofilament and I’ve never been able to get the tension right, no matter what thread was in the bobbin. I was pleased to note that my in-the-ditch quilting is getting better, although there is still room for improvement.
Hanging sleeves and corner triangles
I added a hanging sleeve to the quilt, but split it to allow the weight to be carried on three hooks as I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get over-the-door hooks and might have to use Command hooks which have low weight limits (not that this quilt weighs much, but the hooks may have to cope with cats hanging on by their claws). I added triangles to the bottom corners so that I could insert another dowel to prevent the quilt from moving too much.
Border and binding
Binding was attached to the back and pulled around to the front. Would you believe I used the lint roller not even five minutes previously? Those cotton fibres are worse than craft glitter.
Jewel Box Door Quilt
This has to be one of the fastest quilts I’ve ever made. I settled on the design on Sunday 21 May and would have started cutting except that my rotary blade was blunt. I bought new blades on Monday and did almost all of the cutting that day. Tuesday and Wednesday saw me sewing the block units; Thursday I completed the blocks and assembled the top; Friday was basting day at my sewing friend Sue’s house (hence the deadline); Saturday was quilting and Sunday 29 May was binding. I did my best to pace myself, doing a little at a time with rests in between, but my wrists are not happy so it will be several days before I can resume work on hexagons.

A final thought: my usual practice is to press seams open and then use lots of pins, but it does take about three times longer than pressing to one side and nesting. Since I was working to a deadline I opted to press to one side and I didn’t even spin the seams. This didn’t matter much for the HST units because I always cut large and then trim to size, but my four-patch units were all a bit small — sometimes more than 1/8″ too small — because my pressor foot and the way I position the fabric under the foot is calibrated for open seams. My seam intersections are a lot bulkier, too, but my machine powered through (luckily I was using a 90/14 needle — I think a smaller needle might have had difficulty). I’m not fussed about seams pulling apart, though, because this quilt isn’t going to be handled much and the quilting is quite close — every piece is quilted and no point is more than 1″ away from a quilting line.

Overall I love how well the pattern turned out and I would happily make another Jewel Box quilt if the opportunity arises.

Lessons Learned:
1. Measure twice, cut once!!!
2. Value gradients work better on the diagonal.
3. Pressing to one side vs pressing open has a significant effect on unit size.
4. If you are webbing your quilt from top to bottom you need to have the right-most blocks at the top of each pile or you’ll get everything back to front.
5. I don’t like 100% cotton thread for quilting, especially when it’s thick.

Spot the Bot

I’m not a fan of the way WordPress inserts random blog posts into my reader page, but usually I scroll past without even registering them. Today, however, I couldn’t help noticing something unusual (from yesterday, I should add, as the most recent “recommended” posts were different).


Given that WordPress targets professionals and businesses, this is an embarrassment.

(I extend my apologies to Ms Blades for including her post in this rant.)

If it’s ugly but functional …

… it’s good.

I’ve been doing a little utility sewing this week — the result aren’t exactly pretty but they work and that’s the main thing.

A. Cat collars.

Cat collars
Cat collars

My cats are going on an interstate journey this week so they need harnesses. I bought the largest cat harnesses I could find but they were still too small, so I had to make some alterations. Every part except the neck loop had to be extended. The front strap was too small but was a good size for the back strap so is relatively unchanged. The back strap (which was doubled) was unfolded and became the front strap. The chest strap had to be enlarged by two inches for Vanima and almost four inches for Verya. I used 1.2 cm polyester woven tape because the smallest webbing I could find was a full inch wide and that’s a bit too much, even for my chonky girls. The chest straps are actually a little too large now but I retained the adjusting buckles so they can be tightened once the cats are secured.

Before you ask … yes, I have tried dog harnesses but the proportions are all wrong and the webbing used is a lot thicker — too much even for my strongest machine (the Janome Combi). I don’t anticipate moving the cats again but if so I might try to get narrower webbing and buckles and make harnesses myself.

B. Tote bag

Grey canvas bag side view
Grey canvas bag side view

Accompanying the cats will be four trays of cat food, already broken open and resorted into order of use (because I am functionally brain dead in the mornings and it helps that I only have to grab the next can in line). They are pretty heavy and I don’t have a suitable bag for them so I bought some canvas at Spotlight and made one to size. It wasn’t very difficult but of course I had to have a bright idea in the middle of construction that actually made things harder. The cat food trays are fairly heavy so I cut all the panels individually so that the warp grain would take all the strain and I didn’t have to waste any of the 150 cm fabric (I cut one strip of 12″ and two strips of 3″ for the handles). I also added a lot of reinforcing stitches. I decided to topstitch every seam as well, which is a good idea, but I chose to do it before attaching the base to the sides — while it was definitely easier to do at that stage it made attaching the base a lot harder and the corners are rather bulky as a result.

Grey canvas bag base
Grey canvas bag base

The handles go right under the base and are butted together, because I tried sewing the end seam and turning it but it was way too bulky and I wasn’t sure that the Combi would be able to cope with eight layers (nine if you include the base itself). Instead I sealed the ends with glue and stitched over the join several times.

I didn’t photograph the lining but it’s plain muslin, nothing exciting.

In spite of the mistakes I made I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. It fits the cat food trays and the chance of it coming apart because of the weight is minimal.

Edit: I know I was critical of the Wonder Clips a few weeks back when I was using them for hand piecing, but they were absolutely fantastic for this project — multiple layers of canvas were too thick for pins and the clips held everything together perfectly.

Lessons Learned:
1. Canvas needs half-inch seam allowances (they were starting to unravel towards the end of construction).
2. Don’t topstitch the side seams before attaching the base.

April’s Hexagons

Lots and lots of blue, with occasional other colours to maintain my sanity.

I have done a few more that haven’t been photographed yet so I am over the halfway point. Thanks to my sewing friend Sue I’m being supplied with additional cardboard for templates so I can leave them all basted until the end, which will make arranging them in value order much easier. I have also found a box that is just the right size for storing them.

Très amusant!

Did you know that a French seam is called “couture anglaise” (English seam) in French? I’ve exhausted my usual crafting channels on YouTube so I’m watching tutorials in French to pass the time while sewing and came across one using this technique today.

Also I am getting very sick of blue hexagons.

Small fabric purchase

I spent the weekend in Tasmania (I am hoping to move there later this year) and naturally looked up some of the local craft shops. I treated myself to 15 quarters (some fat, some long) — I would have loved to have bought more but I could only take a cabin bag with me on the return trip so I was limited in my weight allowance. I am still proceeding with my hexagons from stash, but I’ve actually cut most of the warm colours already and I need more if the quilt isn’t to be very blue, hence the pinks, reds and orange here.

Weekend fabrics
Weekend fabrics