Monday, 1 July 2013

Lena's Choice

This is Lena's Choice, first published in Practical Needlework, circa 1910:


 As mentioned in a previous post, my mother's name was Magdalena, called Lena by most people. So, when I saw this block in The Quilter's Album of Blocks and Borders, I decided that I needed to add it to my 2012 BOM in her honour. In this post, I decided to actually explain how to do the block instead of just talking about the it, for anyone who would like to attempt it. I'm sorry I didn't do this for the Irish Puzzle. If anyone wants to know how to do that block, just let me know and I will try to write it all out, though I didn't take step by step pictures. 
Here's how Lena's Choice started:

 In the lower right, you will see the actual picture in the book on which this block is based. I had to draft that 2-1/2" picture into a 12 inch block. If you're interested in learning more about drafting blocks, sign up for Craftsy's free course, 2013 Block of the Month. March's lesson is about drafting blocks. 
The fabric on the left is fabric I purchased for another project. However, I purchased more than enough, so I'm sure I'll have enough for the little I need for Lena's Choice. I needed two different striped fabrics to complete the block the way I did. The rest of the fabric is a fat quarter bundle that I was inspired by when I saw it. My mother loved birds and flowers, so I felt this was an appropriate choice for her block. 
In order to draft a block, you have to draw a lot of lines, and then erase the parts of the lines that you don't need. I actually had even more lines than this by the time I was done.
I then went over the lines that I wanted with a fine marker so that they would stand out:

And finally I added the letter codes designating each fabric:
Originally, I planned on using this fabric for the little triangles in the middle of each side:
As you can see, the birds in the fabric are too big for the triangle pieces. Chopping up flowers is one thing. Chopping up birds is quite another... I'm sure I'll find a future use for this fat quarter. The triangles I actually did cut are sitting on the drafted block. I didn't really intend for them to be in this picture, but I was moving things around to take the various pictures and didn't really pay attention to where I had put them. LOL.
So, you will actually need 5 fabrics to complete the block as I did, two of which are stripes of some sort. You could probably get by with one striped fabric for both of the sections where I used stripes. And if you wanted to put background fabric in this block, you would substitute it for fabrics A and/or C.
Y-seam alert: there are quite a few Y-seams in this block, so if you're not comfortable with Y-seams, you might not want to attempt this block. June's lesson in Craftsy's 2013 BOM class teaches the technique for Y-seams if you want to try them. I'm not going to repeat how to do them here, when you can find the instruction on Craftsy for free. Now, here I will just mention that I am no quilting expert. An expert might be able to tell you how to do this block easier and more efficiently. She/he might even be able to teach you how to avoid a lot of those Y-seams. I'm just going to share how I did this block. :-)
Starting with fabric A, cut 4 x 3.5" squares for the corners and a 4.5" square. Cut the 4.5" square into quarter square triangles:
Yes, you really don't need a 4.5" square for these pieces. Probably a 4" square will do, but I'm going to confess something: I'm really lousy at sewing "scant" 1/4" seams. As a result, my blocks often end up smaller than they should. And the more seams in a block (like this one, lots of seams), the smaller my block ends up being. So, if I start off with bigger than I need and trim off the excess, it usually works out better for me. 
As you can see, I "fussy cut" the birds for the corners. Unfortunately, there weren't enough birds in this fat quarter far enough away from the edges to do all four corners. But that's fine - the flowers are pretty, too.
Next, cut 3 x 4.5" squares from fabric B. Cut two of these into quarter square triangles and set the third aside for now. Again, you can make 4 inch squares if you want. 

Before sewing these triangles on to the corner squares, you might want to lay everything out, especially if you've got fussy cuts like I do, to make sure it looks the way you want it. Once it looks how you want it, you can sew fabric B triangles to two adjacent sides of each fabric A square.
Trim those little tales off. 
Now comes the fun part. Cut 4 x 1.75" wide strips, at least 14 inches long of fabric D, one of the striped fabrics. Make sure the stripes run along the length of the strip. The actual measurement of the width of the strips, including seam allowance is 1-9/16": try cutting that! So, I just rounded it up to the nearest quarter inch. You can do it however you want to. I will give the actual measurements that the pieces should be and what I rounded it up to. I had a lot of fun cutting my 45 degree angles in the wrong directions and ended up scrapping at least one strip. So here's an actual picture of how you should cut your strip:
 If you enlarge the picture, you can see the letters I've added.


I cut from right to left, but I lettered from left to right. All angles are 45 degree angles.
Pieces A & E are scraps. Pieces B & D are 2-7/8" (3") long. PIece C is 7-5/8" (7.75") long. Piece D needs to move to the left of piece C, and piece B to the right, like this:

Once you've cut all of the strips, lay everything out again to make sure you're pleased with your arrangement, including the side triangles:
You'll notice that I've got one of the pieces on the lower right flipped, so watch for that. I didn't notice until I had it all sewn together. Apparently the Amish deliberately make at least one mistake in every quilt they make to remind them that no one is perfect but God. Well, I don't have to worry about making mistakes deliberately. I can do it without even trying. And I think my mistakes are closer to one per block, not one per quilt. I really didn't want to rip out a Y-seam, so decided to leave it there. If I had noticed before I finished the Y, I probably would have ripped it out. Just a reminder that I am not perfect. :-)
Before you sew on these strips, you should trim up the fabric B triangles, especially if you cut 4.5" squares, instead of 4" ones. Once you have the strips sewn on and the Y-seams completed, attach two side triangles to each end of opposite corner units. You'll end up with four units that look like this:


Now for the centre. I'm going to start with an 8-pointed star with my second striped fabric, fabric E. Cut a 2" strip at least 20 inches long. Cut this strip into pieces 2-1/8" (2-1/4") long, using a 45 degree angle. Cut 4 pieces with the angle going in one direction, then 4 more pieces with it going in the opposite direction. Sew them into pairs like this:

Trim the tales and sew the pairs together like this:
And then this:
 Take fabric C and cut a 4.5" square (or 4") and a 2 x 2.5" squares. Cut the 2.5" squares in half diagonally, forming 4 half square triangles. Sew these into the smaller corners of this star.
Take the 4.5" square of fabric B that was set aside earlier and the one of fabric C. With right sides together, sew all around the outside. Then cut in half diagonally in both directions.

Press these squares open and trim/square up to 2-1/4". Sew into the centre unit with fabric B towards the centre.


(Argh, all that bias made the centre unit pucker. And it's too small... Well, it's been too much work to start over again. It will just remind me that I'm definitely not perfect. So, I'll have to trim up the corner pieces).
Sew the two corner units that do not have the side triangles attached to the centre unit.
Then add the other two corner units. (I have to take mine apart and trim them up first). Trim and square up. 
And so, despite my efforts to the contrary, or maybe because of them, I still ended up with a block that was smaller than it was supposed to have been. And very pucker-y. I guess altogether too many bias seams, too many Y-seams and too many strange measurements. Not to mention trying to take pictures and blog about the process, with my computer in another room, while actually trying to make it... Nevertheless, it's done, in spite of all my mistakes and problems. As my mother used to say, "A blind man will never see it." Once the quilting's done, hopefully the puckering won't be so noticeable.  I added a border to make it the right size:
Let me know if you decide to try making this block. 
Just a note on a couple of notions. I bought a package of those adhesive-backed rubber dots to put on the back of my quilting rulers. I'm really not happy with them. Yes, they do help keep the ruler from slipping, but they are so thick that they raise the ruler too high above the fabric. So the fabric between the dots is not being held down at all. Not good.
I also bought a Cutting Edge ruler. It's the one with the sharpening steel along the edge, so that your blade gets sharpened as you cut. Am I imagining things? I feel as if my blades actually wear out faster when I use this ruler. Anyone else have any experience with this? Another point is that the ruler is frosted, so if there's not a big contrast between the cutting mat and the fabric, it can be difficult to see the edge of the fabric under the ruler.
Anyone have any experience with blade sharpeners? How successful are they? What brand would you recommend?
Finally, I'm beginning to think that I need a cat door in the door into my sewing room. I have an over-the-door ironing board in my sewing room, so have to shut the door to use it. The cats yell if I close the door. If I open the door and let them in, they want back out again almost as soon as I close the door. I could solve the issue by cutting a cat-sized opening in the door so that they can come and go as they please.