I quickly discovered that a major QAL was going on, that's a "quilt-a-long" to you and me. I didn't hesitate much before deciding to join right on in as a "trip around the world" quilt had long been on my admittedly rather extensive to-do list. This quilt has a slightly different design in that it has many "trips around the world" within it and the idea is that it is super scrappy, though of course, if one wants, it can be more orderly. There's a huge and thriving Flickr group devoted to this QAL with lots of massively inspiring pics. Pop over for a look. I dare you not to be tempted!
Fab, eh? (You'll find a link there to the instructions for making the quilt top, too.)
So it starts with stripping, ooh err missus! I made my usual "buffet" to allow me to select strips at random for each block. I haven't cut all the strips before starting, far too boring, I've just been cutting some strips in between making each couple of blocks. That way, my blocks are quite random. The strips are 2.5" by 16" so fit nicely out of a fat quarter, by the way.
So you select six strips and sew them all together. You then need to iron the seams in a particular direction. I couldn't understand the instructions at first but I worked it out in the end and drew myself a little diagram (I even coloured it in, how sad!) which I keep over in front of my ironing board to make sure I get it right.
You then sew the two side ends together which gives you a sort of "roll" and you take this to your cutting mat where the magic begins. Shock, you are going to take up your rotary cutter and cut six "slices" from your roll.
More shocking still, you're going to need your trusty seam ripper at this point Yucky, there's nothing worse than seam ripping is there, but fear ye not, as it's gentle seam ripping and in this case, it has a good purpose.
You simply rip out the seam between two of the little squares and open out the "slice". You do this with each slice, only each time, you open up the seam above the one you just opened. You need to be careful and organised with this to get it right but it's simple enough. It gives you the stepped design you can see emerging in the photo below. Oooh, clever, right?
Once you've sewn those six strips together, you have your block. Just think how long it would have taken to cut those 36 2.5" squares and sew them together individually.
The block is not looking quite flat here as I haven't ironed the final seams, yet. Until I arrange all the finished blocks into my final design, I am not sure which way I want the seams to be pressed.
Before you know it, you have a whole load of blocks. It takes me about half an hour to make a couple and I like that you can just fit in a few here and there between all those dull household chores. It's quite handy to combine with ironing, I find, as you are already spending quite a bit of your time pressing seams over at the ironing board. I tend to operate a reward scheme: "When I've ironed a few shirts, I can make a couple more blocks"!
If you are tempted to join in, there are a few things I've learnt along the way:
- Make sure you are careful and accurate with the basics. So, cut your strips accurately and sew with proper quarter inch seams.
- Be careful with your pressing, too. Don't use too much steam or stretch the strips when you're ironing them, you want to maintain those straight lines to make things easy on yourself later.
- I am impatient and after two rows, I soon realised I was not going to pin together all the zillions of rows it would take to make a sizeable quilt. I do however, like my squares to all butt together accurately so careful cutting and pressing allows me to simply hold the rows together as I feed them through the machine, and pull or push the squares together just a little here and there to get them just right.
- You can be as random or as ordered with this pattern as you like and I guess that's down to personal preference. Personally, I like the quilts which have a bit of pattern going on but still look random and scrappy. It's clear some folks have completely winged it, others have made sure they have an orderly scheme going on. You can achieve this by placement or colour. To this end, the longest diagonal on your block makes the most impact so I've started to give a bit of thought to what colour to use in that spot. The main diagonal is going to start with the square at the bottom left of your block, so be mindful of that when you start cutting and ripping open your slices.
- I work on two blocks at a time; this allows me to chain piece with the minimum of stop-starting and cutting threads, and I can keep track of everything with that number.
- I have two boards on each of which I arrange a set of six strips (use cardboard, spare cutting mat, kitchen tray) and I then work from left to right on each board to keep things ordered. I carry the boards to and from my ironing board, always keeping each set together and in order. It depends on how much room you have in order to do this, but if your sewing table is not big enough for both boards, you can make more space by setting up another chair, set of little steps (that's what I do), or a big box on the floor next to you.
- At first, it can be tricky to know where to rip open your slices and you want to get that right. Once you've opened up your first slice, lay it out flat and note the two colours at the top. The seam to rip open in the next slice is the one between those top two colours.
What you should not do, of course, is decide that you really neeeeeed certain colours or fabrics to go in your scrappy trippy quilt and then go online and naughtily order a few.
Bad, bad Hen.
So I've had a little play with the sixteen blocks I've made up so far. The blocks will measure 12" finished and so I think I'm about half way there. I'm starting to see a pattern emerging and getting a better idea of how to order my blocks but to be honest, I am not overly concerned. The beauty of this pattern is that you can just sew along in an entirely haphazard way and still achieve a pretty cool result. Very liberating.
Go on, you know you want to!