Anyone who has ever watched Project Runway has to admit that the show makes sewing look like fun. Whenever I watch an episode, I am inspired to create. Due to the writer's strike, I've watched a lot of Project Runway lately. I've seen some of the episodes three, four, and even five times. And as I repeatedly watch the contestants design those lovely garments, I find myself itching to do the same. Project Runway makes me want to get out my sewing machine (Baby Lock Ellure) and work with fabric. And because of this, I think it's safe to say that how I've spent the past week can be blamed on the writer's strike, because had they not gone on strike, I would not have watched Project Runway over and over again.
It's been a while since I've sat down and sewed for the sole purpose of pleasure. My last sewing project was making diaper covers for my dog. Not my idea of fun, considering that I didn't know whether or not my dog would recover from her injuries. Thus, I was very stressed as I attempted to design the perfect doggy apparel. Prior to that, I made a quilted wall hanging. The measurements were off, but the project turned out okay. But as far as sewing goes, that's it. One full year with only two projects completed. In a nutshell - I've missed it, and Project Runway only served to remind me how much I love to sew. And so when the winter blues began creeping in last week, I decided to confront the issue before it became a real problem. In my mind, there is only one way to do that - take on a big project. And since I had not sewn for ages, it only made sense to tackle something that would fuel my creative juices and energize my soul.
I sewed for two days. And then I hit a wall. That garish circus fabric. Ugh. My project was nearly complete, but I hated what it had become. I've been sewing since I was six years old, and one thing I learned all those years ago is that the seam ripping tool is a seamstress's best friend. My mom taught me early on that perseverance pays off, and ripping seams out is an expected part of the sewing process. At the age of six, throwing something away was not an option, and so I became very proficient at ripping out my seams. That was over forty years ago, and what I've learned since then is that ripping seams is still very much a part of the journey.
Here is why:
There are few people who will disagree with me - the after results are much preferred to the before results. Had I settled on the before, I would have been dissatisfied. And since this project was intended to fight the winter blues, failure would not have achieved the desired results - considering that my goal was to add sunny colors to my kitchen to brighten my days. And although the circus print is colorful, it was not my intent to make my kitchen table look like clown vomit.
After redoing the entire project, I am now 100% satisfied. My mom was right: the seam ripper is a handy little tool. And so I ripped, just like my mother taught me to do those many years ago. Rip, rip, rip. Two full hours of ripping out seams. And after ripping out all six placemats, I started over. When all was said and done, I had used every last scrap of fabric available in my attempt to "make it work." Today, my kitchen is sunny and bright. And even though the table setting is more appropriate for spring than for cold, dark January days, I am liking the addition of color in my home. Suffice it to say, I think Tim Gunn would be proud because I followed his advice and I made it work!
The towels were made using the bits and pieces left over from the table runner. After that, I then used the bits and pieces left over from the towels and put together a little 12x8 wall hanging. When I was done with the sewing project, I sat down and crocheted some matching hot pads and a dishcloth. And in the end, I have an entire kitchen ensemble - all bright and sunny. My table now evokes a feeling of sunshine, which was my intention all along.
After spending an entire week at the sewing machine, I decided to put together a pictorial how-to instruction guide regarding placemat construction and making your own bias tape. For those who don't sew, and for those who aren't inspired by Project Runway, you may find this information to be tedious. And because I know that not everyone who reads this blog is interested in the subject of sewing, I'm giving a heads up: this ends the portion of the entry that is chatty.
For those who wish to read further, here is the informational part of this entry:
A few people have asked me the question, "How do you do that?" In an attempt to answer that, and other questions I've been asked, I've put together the following pictorial how-to guide.
- First of all, a disclaimer: any and all quilting I do is done using a walking foot attachment. In addition, I sew the strip pieces together using a 1/4" quilt foot. After much trial and error, I have learned that it doesn't matter how fancy your sewing machine is - without these attachments, the quilt will not turn out square. I special ordered the attachments for the Baby Lock machine I use when quilting. The cost was around $45.
- For quilt batting, I use 100% cotton (purchase the package marked crib quilt - this will give you enough batting for many home decor quilting projects). Polyester batting does not work up nearly as nicely as cotton. Don't skimp on the batting, as the batting makes the difference between a so-so project and a just-right project.
- I prefer to use mono-filament thread for machine quilting. A word of caution about mono-filament thread: it is a bugger to work with. If polyester batting is used, mono-filament thread will give you all sorts of problems. When using cotton batting, the mono-filament is still difficult to work with, but with patience, it does work (sewing slowly is the key).
- For the placemats I designed my own pattern using a store bought placemat as a guide. I traced that single placemat onto tissue paper and then cut out three pattern pieces - all the same size. I then placed these three pieces of tissue on my fabric and cut out the three pieces of fabric, which equals six placemat tops. Repeat for the reverse side. Repeat again for batting. (Save tissue patterns for your next project.) Sandwich the three pieces (top, batting, back) together with batting in the middle. Note: I prefer an oval pattern only because an oval does not require mitered corners at the binding step. I've made rectangle placemats on many occasions, but the mitering can be difficult. There are many Simplicity, McCall's, and Butterick patterns available for home dec projects. However, I have discovered that the placemat size in those patterns is huge! I don't like huge.
- After making my own placemats for years, I have learned one single thing: the placemats must be quilted throughout (double click on any picture I've posted to see how these placements have been quilted: vertically stitched rows that are spaced 1.5 inches apart). Quilt the three layers together before binding the edges. Start in the center and work out in a left side, right side manner. This is to keep the batting from stretching in one direction. Tip: I've made placemats before without quilting the layers together, and they wash up terribly - meaning the front, back and batting separate and they don't lay flat. My theory is that the batting shrinks up at a different size ratio than the fabric. By quilting all three layers together, the separation of layers is confined to the quilted area. Therefore, the size ratio remains the same throughout. When studying the placemats at stores, it is apparent that quilting the three layers together is the preferred method - even for professional designers.
- And finally, to complete the placemats and/or a quilted table runner, I like to use coordinating bias tape as a finishing touch. Bias tape binds the three layers together, as well as finishes the raw edges. The bias tape available at fabric stores is horrendous, and I don't recommend it. For one thing, it is too stiff. It is also very difficult to work with. Years ago, I began searching for bias tape instructions because I knew that there had to be a better option. When I was 18 years old, I found a pattern that included the perfect instructions for making my own bias tape. And to this day, I remember that light-bulb moment. The finished garment was an adorable pink summer wrap-around dress, and had I used store bought bias tape, the dress would not have flowed properly. But by making my own bias tape, I was able to bind the seams perfectly. I loved that dress, and it fit perfectly because I made my own bias using coordinating fabric.
Following is a pictorial tutorial on how to make bias tape. I hope this helps even one person, because I truly believe that success to making placement hinges on the bias.
End of how-to guide.