Friday, May 29, 2020

Tips for Piecing Mississippi Mud Blocks

"Are you in" as they say?
If you don't want to start a new quilt, give my assembly technique a try using 16 squares, any size.
(Think potholder?)  If you are just going to experiment, you can skip "piecing the star points".
Let's go!! 
Piecing the star points -- you will need eight star point units for the main block.
The instructions on how to piece these are at the top of page 5 in the pattern if this technique is new to you.  Just do eight for now because as I piece a block, I make the star point units for the next block as my "leader and enders" while chain piecing.

If you are using one fabric for all the stars, piece eight star point units using the small squares you've cut and eight different "background" squares.
If you want to use two different star fabrics, piece four of each color on different "background" squares.
If you want to use lots of different star fabrics, piece four points of one color, two of a second color and one of a third and fourth color.

Layout a block as below next to your machine -- if this is the beginning of a quilt, try to use fourteen different "background" prints in the block.  The star points in the upper right corner and lower left corner will complete stars in adjacent blocks as you set the blocks together.  If you are using two star fabrics, both of those corners and the partial star in the lower right corner will be fabric #2 while the complete star will be fabric #1.

TIP:  Laying the complete star out first is the quickest way to begin -- and double check that all the star points are angled as in this photo.  It's easy to get one rotated 90 degrees (wrong!!) so stop and look before you start to sew.
I always hung a sample block in front of my classroom when teaching this quilt so students could look up and quickly check the star points positions!
Assembling a block -- Flip the squares in the second vertical row (from the left side of the photo) right side down on top of the first row squares.
This sets up each pair of squares with the seam edge on the same side as you will stitch, so no need to twist or rotate the pair as you align the edges.
Chain piece the four sets starting with the top set and working down to the bottom set. 
Don't cut anything apart yet!!
Before clipping off this string of squares, piece a star point unit for the next block as your "ender". 
This star point unit will stay under your needle and you'll clip the complete chain off the back of it and head to the ironing board.
No clipping of the thread chains yet!!
Lay it on the ironing board with each pair's open side facing toward you.
Clip off that star point unit (which was my "leader) and set it aside.   The "ender" is still under the needle at my machine!
Flip the second and fourth units (counting from the right) up.
Press the seams flat to set the stitching. 
Then work along the chain and flip the top piece up (away from yourself), press the seam to one side.
Flip the second one down (towards yourself) and press the seam to one side.
Continue alternating along the chain. 
I know lots of quilters these days are pressing seams open but I prefer pressing to one side for a couple reasons.  The most important reason to me is that when the seams oppose each other, 
I can feel when they are matching up more accurately.  
To understand this better -- lay two pairs right sides together.
Manipulate the seams back and forth between your fingers and feel the alignment.
If you feel a gap or a lump where the seams lines intersect, it's not quite right yet.
It should feel smooth on both sides of the stitching line when the seams are snug against each other.
I also believe the quilt top is weaker when the seams are pressed open plus it's just too much work to press them open.  
(I've tried the open seam approach and frankly my matching stinks when I do it.)

Repeat the process for the third/fourth vertical rows remembering to start at the top of the block and work down.  At first this may not seem intuitive to you but it's a common mistake during workshops.  If you start at the bottom and work up -- everything gets twisted around and you'll get frustrated.
Don't forget to "ender" with another star point.
Now you have eight pairs of squares. 
At this point, I clip the thread chain between the second and third pairs in each column. 
Flip the top pair face down on the lower pair
until you have four sets as below. 
The sewing begins with the upper left pair -- still chain piecing -- and move to the 
 upper right pair, then the lower left pair, then the lower right pair.
Do another star point unit as your "ender".
Back to the ironing board with the complete chain in tact -- see that "leader" on the left? 
The pressing is the same -- first set down, second set up, third set down, fourth set up. 
Head back to the machine, layout the block, cutting the thread chains as needed -- 
the block is now four 4-patch units. 
Flip the right side units onto the left side units and chain piece to assemble. 
One reason I leave the thread chains is that it makes it easier to be sure which edges I want to stitch together -- it there is a chain, I know to seam those two edges together.
No chain, no stitching! 
Last trip to the ironing board -- I forgot to take a picture of the second part of this step but again, the first one on the right stays down and the left one is flipped up before pressing the seams to one side.
Two halves, ready for the final seam!! 
As you prepare to stitch the two halves together,  notice this is the first time you've had more than one seam intersection to match!   In the previous step when I laid one 4-patch on top of the other to sew the seam, I actually matched the seams all the way around so the two units are centered on top of each other -- then when I stitched the seam, I measured the 1/4" from the raw edge of the largest 4-patch, consistently.
What this achieves is that any slight size variations are adjusted consistently so when I put the two halves together, all three seam intersections align correctly. 
 My blocks are perfect from the right side and fit together well with the rest of my blocks.
 (I never trim blocks to the "correct" size, but that's a sermon for another day.)
Often times, I don't press this final seam until I begin to layout the blocks since I don't know if it should go up or down at this point.  Once I lay the blocks out, I pick up a row of blocks and press all the final seams in the same direction.  The next row is pressed in the opposite direction.
This has saved me lots of annoyed frustration when setting the blocks together.
With this new version, since every block was assigned a specific position in the quilt, I could press that final seam as I made them before adding them to the design wall. 
So here's a basic finished block for the multi-color star version. 
I learned this approach to piecing blocks (it works for setting blocks together, too) from my long time teacher/mentor/friend, Mary Ellen Hopkins almost forty years ago.  She referred to it as working in "twosy/foursy".  And I've been using it and teaching it for just as long.

TIPFor edge-to-edge quilt settings, all the blocks should pressed identically (except for that last seam) if made from an even number of units (2 by 2, 4 by 4, etc.).    If the block is an odd number of units (5 by 5, etc.), every other block needs to be pressed in the opposite order.  Then when the blocks are set together, the seams will automatically be opposing making the matching simple.

I wish you could sit in a workshop with me and learn this technique face-to-face but hopefully I've been able to explain it clearly with my pictures and text.
And here are my "leader/ender" star point units ready for the next block! 
With both the one color stars and the two color stars versions, you can literally piece blocks and keep them in a box until you are ready to set the blocks together.  With a large variety of "background" prints, there is very little chance of any print ending up next to itself in my experience.
That's what makes it such a great stash busting quilt -- plus it's a great place to use up some of the tired old fabric that you don't want to use but can't throw away.

This variation was different because I pieced it block by block.  I placed each one on the design wall as it was finished.  Originally the background was all white squares, no black "border" squares -- but it just wasn't working for me -- all that light needed a frame.  So I un-stitched the outside edges of the first four blocks I made and changed the outer squares to black print. (Ugh!)
I kept getting bogged down with the color placement decisions for the stars until I realized
 I could "plan" the star colors for the entire next row by simply laying the main square of each star on the design wall -- so much easier!!  I think the seed of this idea was all the "rainbow" style quilts I see on Instagram.

The checkerboard border is the result of cutting too many black squares and not wanting to put them back into the stash.  I auditioned several ideas but settled on this one in the end. 
I went back after all the blocks were pieced with the black border squares and added the checker board squares -- but I included a diagram at the end of the updated pattern showing this variation so you don't have to do that.  You can add the checkerboard squares as you piece the blocks.  It will be so much easier!!

This is the upper left corner block with the extra squares added on the left and upper edges.
I used 40 black squares and 40 white squares for the my laprobe size quilt top but I'm sorry I didn't count how many you need for any of the other sizes.  My guesstimate is that for every block needed to change the length or width of the quilt,  it would change that count by four squares of each color.
So my top is 4 by 5 blocks -- if I want it longer (4 by 6 blocks), I think I would need four more black and four more white squares.  I might be off one or two . . . . let me know!

So my quilt top is finished and currently on the "ready to quilt" shelf.  I stopped assembling  when I got four sections together as you see below -- it will be easier for me to quilt it this way. 
Okay, I have written and edited and re-read and edited and proofed and read it again. 
It's as ready as I can make it, but if I've left out something, raise your hand and leave a comment!

Share your test run on Instagram and tag me @hueymary and use the hashtag #mississippimudquilt
-- I want to see what you do!

And if you hesitated to buy the pattern at first, but now you are ready 

Still mostly isolating up here in NEOhio -- have a good weekend!


Monday, May 25, 2020

Mississippi Mud Revisited

If you are familiar with my first pattern, Mississippi Mud (circa 1985), this new version breaks all of my old rules about the fabric selection!  
And how about that checkerboard border?!?
This design is a simplification of the traditional quilt block, Mississippi, which I found in Mary Ellen Hopkins' book, Even More Well Connected.  Mary Ellen introduced her teaching seminar students to a simple-to-piece "connector corner" in the mid 1980's.  It's a common technique today, but thirty-plus years ago, stitching a small square diagonally from corner-to-corner on top of a larger square to make a triangle was revolutionary!!
I eliminated some of the "connectors" in the original block because they bothered me visually and flipped the color values using lights for the star and darks for the background of the block.  The result was floating stars on a scrappy background that my students loved and they soon nicknamed it Mississippi Mud because of that jumbled assortment of prints used for the background of the first quilt.  It was such a popular workshop for me that I wrote a pattern and it has been a long-time best seller for me.
I've pieced this quilt at least a half dozen times over the years and between my versions and all the quilts my students have made, I know the larger the assortment of prints used, the better the quilt looks.  I would never use less than seventeen different prints.  
This "muckled up" (Mary Ellen's word) approach to the fabrics works best if you have a theme.  Examples include -- a mixture of batiks; or all 30's reproductions; or an analogous colors assortment (side by side colors on the color wheel - purple & blue, etc.); or a monochromatic color assortment (one color family).  I haven't tried using a designer's fat quarter assortment but I think it would work as long as any light background prints were left out.
I've always told students that medium to dark colors in small to medium scale prints make it easier to find a fabric for the stars that will pop against the muckled, scrappy background fabrics.
But when a student showed up with all the wrong fabrics several years ago during a workshop, I began to think differently.
She had lots of large scale prints which made it challenging to chose a fabric for the stars with a good contrast so the stars were obvious -- but after some experimenting, we came up with this effective solution!

At the time, it was just another opportunity to wrangle a contrary student who wasn't following my very clear instructions about fabric selection (are you smiling here?).   However, the seed of this successful variation has been germinating in my head for a while.

Another question that has surfaced on and off over the years is "can you use more than one fabric for the stars".  Well, it's easier if you don't (obviously).  I placated some of those contrarians by "allowing" them to use two different fabrics for the stars -- its easy to set that up so the two fabrics alternate in the finished quilt although I just looked through all my photos and apparently haven't actually done that myself.
So who knows what events led me to make this new version with a completely light background and thirty-two different star fabrics?  I think the "white with black" prints background idea started to develop while I was piecing Jen Kingwell's Long Time Gone sampler a couple years ago.  Then this past year, as I started working on the Kinship Sampler, since I was pulling out lots of prints from my stash, I started to cut pieces for two other scrappy quilts -- a multi-color stars version of Mississippi Mud being one of them.

As I started to piece the quilt top this winter, I had an idea to lead a sew-along with you to make your own version of this quilt.  It would require an edit of my pattern to update the suggested piecing tools and expand the layout options and I've done that!  My plan was to launch April 1 but the Covid19 shutdown interrupted that -- not because I wasn't ready, but everyone was organizing sew-alongs.  And then there is mask making?!?  I felt like launching one more sew-along would just contribute to everyone's state of "overwhelmed" -- I know I want to do them all and you probably do as well?

So here we are two months down the road we didn't know was ahead and I have a finished quilt top and a newly edited pattern uploaded in my Etsy shop HERE.
What shall I do?

Instead, I'm promoting the pattern today if you don't already own it.
(Sorry you missed the party with Mississippi Mud cake when I sold the 500th copy of the pattern.)
If you already own the pattern, the edit has been cosmetic for the most part so your copy is good.
The basics are the same -- cutting, assembly, all of it.

Then on Friday, May 29 I'll walk you through my piecing strategy for the blocks.
You can decide it you want to add this quilt to your "to-do" list.  But maybe the design variation ideas or my piecing strategy will give you ideas that relate to your own creative process?
So you decide and you benefit from it either way!
Then pick through your scrap basket over the next few days and cut enough pieces for four blocks so you are ready to follow along next weekend and piece a few blocks to get the feel of my piecing strategy.

If you don't enjoy the process or aren't totally happy with your fabric choices, those four blocks will make a 24" square -- big enough for a nice dog quilt!?!

Fabric advice?  I've simplified my "rules" -- whatever you choose is good just make sure the star fabric contrast suits your eye!

Questions?  Leave them in the comments because someone else wants to know, too!
See you on Friday!


Monday, May 18, 2020

Birding Wins!

It's mid-May in Northeast Ohio and that means non-stop birding is in full swing as thousands of birds migrate through the region in their annual spring trip to their breeding habitats.
So sewing and the social media has been largely ignored for the past several days and the only reason I'm here with you right now is that my body declared a "day-off" this morning.
The weather is cooperating, too -- it's raining.
 So I'd rather stay inside and the birds that are just pausing here on their trip farther north are more likely to still be here tomorrow!!
(Long-distance flying in the rain is not a good option.)

The one thing I have been working on for the past week is machine quilting another "big bed" quilt for one of the triplets!  It's the rose star sample I pieced using Marti Michell's template sets.

I've divided the top into two sections and added just the top and bottom borders to begin.
I layered the top half last weekend and have almost finished the quilting.
Working in sections is so much easier on my body as there is less weight and bulk to manage.
(Peculiar angle of picture due to limited large area to spread it all out.)
Next I'll layer up the lower half and quilt it. 
You'll notice that the batting and the backing extend way beyond the sides of the quilt.  That is so I can add the borders and cornerstones after the two halves are assembled.
(I'll organize some pictures of that to share as I do it later this month.)

I started with some simple straight lines in the ditch to outline the perimeter of each block and the setting triangles.  As I was doing those, I realized that additional straight lines from edge-to-edge of the quilt would outline the star points and dissect the setting triangles.
Once that was done, I experimented with the best/easiest ways to add more quilting.
Outlining the hexagon arms of the blocks, the center hexagons, and doing simple flowers in the center were the results of that.
The flowers are simple "pumpkin seeds" radiating from the center of the hexagon to the center of each side which aligned nicely with any seams as some of the hexagons are pieced.
The setting triangles were divided into four triangles by the in-the-ditch quilting so I went back and added more lines to break it up into sixteen smaller triangles making them lay flatter and recede visually.  If a section is puffy, it draws the eye -- sometimes that is just what is needed but not this time.
This morning as I began to quilt the borders, I had a "lightbulb" idea and want to share it as it might be useful to you.  The straight edge guide tool I use with my ruler foot only has straight lines (there are probably some that have more lines but I'm in a "make-do" mode here).
I wanted to stitch a diamond chain/cable in the second border using the sixty-degree angles of the patchwork and quilting in the center of the quilt.

I found this "pointer stickers" in my stash and used them to create two sixty-degree angles on my tool using the angles of the patchwork.  Having two lines going in opposite directions will make the next step easier!
 Now I can position the tool quickly -- the arrow edge is lined up with the edge of the border strip and I quilt along the upper edge of the ruler
 By having a line on both ends of the tools, it's easy to twist it to line up with the right, then the left, then the right and without any marking, I stitched a zigzag line down the length of the border strip.
In this picture, you can see the tool lined up on the left as I stitch a second zigzag line to create the diamonds.
 Everything lined up nicely -- there are a few little glitches but she'll be two when she gets the quilt so it's okay.  And I hope the quilt is worn with love by the time she might recognize that a few of the diamonds are not geometrically accurate.
I can't remember who taught me to "repeat design elements" throughout the quilting process but that's such an easy strategy!  Look at what is done and modify and build on it to do the rest.
Adding some fancy free-motion quilted flowers surrounded with "channel" quilting occurred to me over the weekend but when I got to that point this morning, I realized the flowers needed to be simpler.  
Time to pause and contemplate.
In the end, I enlarged the flower from the center of the blocks with the aid of the large hexagon template in Marti Michell's Set H and added some channel quilting following the white lines of the plaid border print.   This is the view from the back.
I'm pleased with the result but it will mean the borders are more densely quilted than the center of the quilt, so more quilting will need to be added to the center to keep the quilt flat.
Maybe some "big stitch" hand quilting with pearle cotton might be fun??? 
Thanks for letting me share this part of the adventure with you!  Writing this morning has been a great way to procrastinate cleaning house but I need to buckle down and do some of that to make it more pleasant to be here for another week?!?  I have to confess to feeling a bit anxious at heading back out into world this week -- slow and steady looks like the best strategy!

But I did get to visit the triplets yesterday afternoon -- they are soon to be a year old.
Would you look at those eyes -- three different sets but all endearing for sure!
(girl, boy, girl)
Stay focused and busy this week!