How NOT to stencil on fabric

Stencil design
I’ve been working on a project for Aussie Hero Quilts recently and decided to stencil a design onto fabric, as it wasn’t really suited to appliqué. While the idea was fine, I made three bad choices in the process:

1. I ironed two layers of freezer paper together over a soft ironing surface, which caused the layers to wrinkle.
Stencil back, showing wrinkles
2. I compounded this error by using water-soluble PVA glue to adhere the design to the freezer paper so that the paper stretched when wet and shrank again when it dried.

3. Instead of using a brush to lay the paint onto the surface gently, I used a sponge and pressed it down on the stencil. (There was supposed to be a photo of the stencil sponge here but for some reason it won’t display properly, no matter how much I tweak the code.)

The result was absolutely awful, as you can see from this photo:
Result on fabric (very bad)
The wrinkled stencil didn’t adhere to the fabric evenly and the pressure from the sponge forced paint out under the stencil, so that instead of a neat design I had a splodgy mess. I had to throw it out (although I did salvage as much of the unpainted fabric as I could).

The freezer paper technique is valid, though – I was much more careful with this star (on a different project) that was also too small for appliqué:
Different stencil, much better result
I made sure that the two layers of freezer paper were pressed (rather than ironed) together on a hard surface, and then the design was drawn on top (traced around a small star template) and cut out. The stencil was pressed onto the fabric on the same hard surface and left to cool. The paint was laid onto the edges of the design very gently and allowed to dry before filling in the rest of the design, and there were three coats in total. The edge is about as clear as freezer paper edges get – there are tiny projections that serve to remind us that fabric is not actually flat and has a three-dimensional structure.

If you have a complex design and you don’t want to trace it onto freezer paper, you can use fusible webbing to adhere it instead since it doesn’t distort the paper as PVA glue does (I had temporarily mislaid mine which is why I used glue but given that the doubled freezer paper was already wavy I don’t think it would have improved matters much in this case).

August Achievements and September Goals

September already! The days are getting lighter and warmer, and I’m hoping to enjoy at least four weeks of nice weather before it gets too hot and I start complaining about the heat. My poor friend in Queensland is already suffering 36°C — way too hot for this time of year.

August goals:
1. AHQ: 4 generic laundry bags. I got three done instead of four — they all had the same accent fabric so it was very easy to do them together. I’ll have to cut some more kits soon so that I can make up two or three in a day if I need them quickly. JM has put out a call for bags to go to Butterworth so I’ll send these off once I’ve done a few more.

Three generic laundry bags
Three generic laundry bags

2. Personal: I didn’t set one this month.

3. FAL: Complete the Blue Christmas top and start on the quilting. Well … I finalised the design and cut the fabric but I haven’t actually set a stitch in it yet. I still have five weeks or so until the finish is due so I need to make this a priority for September.

Blue Christmas all cut out
Blue Christmas all cut out

Other work:
I’ve resumed regular progress on my second Penrose quilt. My wrists are coping with two units per night so I’ll try keep it at that and not push it. I should finish this section by the end of the month, and then I have rosettes to do.

September Goals:

AHQ: Three more generic bags for RAAF Butterworth.

Personal: I really would like to get those last two Hawaiian blocks done. I keep looking at the two pieces of stiffened fabric that are ready for the design and telling myself that I could get them done in only one or two days, just as soon as I’ve traced the design.

FAL: No time to dilly dally on this one. Get the top done, quilt it and bind it before 10 September October.

May Achievements and June goals

May goals:

1. AHQ: Four laundry bags for Townsville. Done. I just have to add the cords and print the letters and they’ll be ready to post on Monday. They are being posted directly to Townsville and won’t be on the AHQ blog, so here are the photos:

Laundry Bags for Townsville 1
Laundry Bags for Townsville 1

Laundry Bags for Townsville 2
Laundry Bags for Townsville 2

I’m especially pleased that I was able to sew the linings shut by hand without any thumb or wrist pain, so I should be able to resume hand-sewing in the evenings.

Memo to self: never sew by hand for more than three hours a day in future.

2. Personal: Assemble the Oriental Stained Glass top. Not done. When I started to lay out the top I found that I had managed to make some of the A blocks incorrectly, which was annoying and a little upsetting, so I set them aside to let me think about what to do. Having thought about it, I’d have to disassemble the blocks almost completely to fix the errors but I’m way too lazy for that, so I’ll have to work out a layout that minimises the errors. If anyone asks, it’s a design variation *wink*.

3. FAL: finish the quilting on EB. I’ve made progress but the quilting isn’t finished. I have another five weeks or so before the FAL due date so there’s plenty of time yet (and at least three more Stanley Cup Final games to go).

No additional work this month — partly because of my hands, partly because I was very disappointed that neither of my ice hockey teams made it further than the second round.

June goals:
1. AHQ: I’m not setting one this month — I need a break from deadlines.
2. Personal: Finish the last two Hawaiian blocks. The fabric is stiffened already, so as soon as I trace around the pattern I can cut it, glue it down and stitch it. They are both being done by machine so it’s two days’ work at most. [If I manage that early in the month, I’ll have another crack at the Oriental Stained Glass layout.]
3. FAL: finish the quilting on EB and bind it. No difficulties anticipated.

Sewing Day (Three Lucky Saves And A Final Snag)

[Note: all photos were taken here at home, not at Sue’s]

Every month on the fourth Friday I go up to see my friend Sue and we work on projects for Aussie Hero Quilts. Occasionally other people turn up but usually it’s just Sue and me.

I was lucky I made it yesterday — for some reason I had it stuck in my head that 24th May was next week. On Thursday night I was lying in bed, reading (as I usually do before going to sleep) when I suddenly realised that in fact 24th was the next day — and I hadn’t got anything ready! Not only that, but my alarm was set for 0930, which is a great time to wake up if you are retired and the only thing you have to do in business hours is go to the farmers’ market, but not a good time if you have to be at the other end of the city by 1000.

Laundry Bag kits May 2019
Laundry Bag kits May 2019

I got up, reset the alarm to 0730 and made a short list of what I had to get ready in the morning. Second lucky chance — I had cut a dozen laundry bag kits a couple of weeks ago after I had finished the oriental stained glass blocks, so in the morning, after I’d dragged myself out of bed, fed the cats and fortified myself with some coffee, I picked out four kits and set them aside. I also fused some web to a length of white poplin to use as write-on labels. My travelling notions container was scrutinised — threads were swapped to match the bag colours, plastic bobbins were swapped out for steel, and then all I had to do was load the machine into the wheeled tote.

Janome Combi 10 overlocker
Janome Combi 10 overlocker

My choice of machine for laundry bags is the Janome Combi 10 which is very solid and very fast. I don’t have a quarter-inch foot for her but that doesn’t matter with laundry bags, and the bonus is the two-thread overlocker on the other side which I use to finish off all those long seams (I know some people don’t bother, but it worries me to have an unfinished seam that isn’t stitched down in some manner).

Anyway, having arrived at Sue’s place and set up my working space, I started on the bags. Zig-zag stitch on the white labels went very well, and so did preparing the casement (cord channel) and attaching the two parts of the first bag. When I came to overlock that seam, however, the machine made a horrible clattering noise. I checked the workings but couldn’t see anything amiss, and when I hand-cranked it all I could hear was the knife cutting through the fabric. As soon as the pedal was depressed the noise came back so the machine is going to have to go in for a service (it’s been about two and a half years since the last one, so I can’t really complain). Bummer.

Pinking Blade
Pinking Blade

Here’s the third bit of luck — the rotary cutter with the pinking blade was still in the notions container. I don’t usually carry it around but I had put it in the container earlier in the month for a sewing day in Sydney, and since everything else I needed fitted around it I hadn’t taken it out. That meant I was able to use it to pink the edges of the long seams on the bag and its lining, and everything went swimmingly until I attempted to put all three parts together.

Unfortunately, I then hit another snag. I’d prepared the casements as I usually do: cutting off the selvedges, turning the edge twice and stitching it down. What I hadn’t done was check the width of the casement fabric against the width of my feature fabric … yes, you guessed it, the casement fabric was 4 cm longer than the feature fabric, and the casement itself was actually a smidgeon wider than the stitched bag.

Casement width
Casement width

Some days you just know the universe is against you.

I decided to call it quits and come home — I’ll get around to fixing the casement and finishing the bags later on this weekend.