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I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I will say it again – I love making stuffed animals. They’re one of my favorite things to sew. There’s just something about the cuteness that makes them so appealing. That, and I like tiny things. So, to give myself the chance to make yet another stuffed animal, I thought I would bring back an old favorite of mine – the Effie & Ollie elephant stuffed animal. The pattern is by Heather Bailey and is just so cute!
I made my elephant using the scallop print in orange from Miss Kate by Bonnie & Camille and I think it’s perfect! I could also see this elephant stuffed animal made out of batiks, 30s reproductions, or even large floral prints! The one thing I will tell you is that I was seriously not paying attention when I cut out the pieces, so I now have an extra elephant side and the print faces different directions on the ears. Whoops! So the lesson learned there is to pay attention. I love that the elephant stuffed animals only call for 1 fat quarter of fabric per elephant, and, if you are careful, you could probably get 2 from each fat quarter. You’ll note that the pattern calls for Woven Fusible Interfacing to stabilize the fabric when working with such small pieces, however I must confess that I made mine without the interfacing. I think that if you have experience with small stuffed animals or dolls, you’d be fine without it, but if you’re feeling insecure, add the interfacing. I also think that the interfacing gives the stuffed animal a different feeling, so I think it would depend on whether you were going to give this to a child or use it as a pincushion, etc.
You’ll also notice that the Effie & Ollie elephant stuffed animal pattern has a few additional embellishment options – you can add a heart or a star to the side of the elephant or give the elephant a little flower behind his or her ear using wool felt. I’ve done the star applique before, but this time I thought it would be fun for my elephant to have a little flower. Instead of going with the flower pattern included in the pattern I decided to give her a morning glory (yes, I know this is not a realistic flower to have behind her ear and yes, I know it isn’t to scale, but it makes me happy!). To do this I cut out a circle and just added a bit of embroidery using the back stitch to give detail to the flower. I then cut 2 leaves using the pattern and attached all of it above my elephant’s ear!
So, tell me, have you ever sewn a stuffed animal before? If so, what are your favorite patterns? If not, let me know if you have any questions in the comments section, and I’ll see if I can get you started on your very own elephant stuffed animal (or at least headed in that direction)!
Quilt borders. Almost all of us quilters have added a border (or 2, or 3, or more) to a quilt before. However, every once in awhile we hit a little bump in the road – they don’t stay flat, we don’t like the way the print looks when it’s pieced, etc. Even though quilt borders are one of the most basic things we do, sometimes it’s nice to have a few tips and tricks to make your life easier. Since I just finished that Russian Rubix quilt and had yet to add a border, I thought now would be a great opportunity to do a back to basics post on quilt borders.
Measuring your quilt borders
The most important part of adding borders to your quilt is measuring accurately. Because the center of your quilt is (usually) pieced, it has a tendency to stretch along the edges. This means that if you were to just attach your border strips (or measure along the edges), your borders would be longer than the center of your quilt, creating a ripple along the outside. The best way to avoid this is to measure across the center of your quilt, and cut the border pieces to that measurement before attaching them to your quilt. Keep in mind that you should always follow the procedure of: measure, cut, sew, and press, and then repeat as necessary.
Measure across the center of your quilt parallel to the edge you wish to border. Cut 2 border pieces to that measurement. Pin the border to the quilt, pinning from the corners towards the center. This helps to bring everything together just in case your quilt has stretched slightly along the edges. If there is any discrepancy between the border piece and the edge of the quilt, ease in the difference. Sew your border on and press the seam. Repeat for other side. Once you’ve attached the first pair of parallel borders, it’s time to add the other two. Because you’ve added your border pieces, when you measure from edge to edge this time the measurement will include your borders. Continue all of the above steps until you’ve added the required number of borders.
Cutting your quilt borders
You have two options when it comes to cutting your quilt borders: cutting them on the cross-wise grain or the length-wise grain of fabric. For an explanation of fabric grain, check out our blog post here. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods. Cutting your border pieces on the cross-wise grain often uses less fabric, but you have to piece the borders. Cutting your borders on the length-wise grain helps keep your quilt flat because the length-wise grain stretches less, but it’s a little bit harder to cut.
When cutting your borders on the cross-wise grain, make sure to press the fabric well and fold it in half so that the selvages are aligned. In addition, don’t forget to straighten the edges of the fabric and make sure that all the cuts you make are perpendicular to the fold of the fabric.
Cutting borders on the length-wise grain is wonderful when you are making a larger quilt, or if you are making a quilt with wider borders (up to 9″ or so). When purchasing your fabric, just make sure that the amount you buy is equal to the side of the quilt + 2 widths of the border + a little bit extra. When it comes time to cut your borders, make sure and press the fabric well, and open it all the way. Fold it in half lengthwise several times until your piece is short enough to cut on your cutting mat. The folds should all be parallel and the selvages aligned neatly. The trick to being successful with your quilt borders is to fold the fabric very carefully. Once your fabric is folded, align a fold with one of the lines on your ruler and cut off the selvages. Measure the width of the border and cut as usual. Be very careful so as to not disturb the folds. Make sure you are using a new rotary cutter blade to cut through everything and that your are holding the cutter vertically so that the cut is accurate through several layers.
Piecing quilt borders
If you have cut your strips on the cross-wise grain of fabric and need to piece them, you can do so using a straight seam or an angled seam. I often make that decision based on how the design of the fabric looks with one seam or the other. Some prints will be more likely to show a seam than others, so experiment with both. No matter which way I piece my seams, I always press them to one side. Once a quilt is quilted the seams that are pressed open are more likely to show.
If I am doing more than one border on my quilt and I’ve pieced them, I will make sure to stagger the seams so they do not all align. The seams are much more likely to get noticed if they all align, and the bulk of the joining seams can all end up in one place. In that vein, I also try to avoid centering a joining seam along the side of quilt. Again, I feel as though having the seam centered would draw more attention to it.
I hope that these tips help you with borders for your next quilt. Even though almost everyone who has made a quilt before has attached borders, sometimes we run into trouble and we’re not sure why. These techniques should make for a successful quilt border!
It’s that time of year again – the time for holiday cards. Every year since we got married I’ve said that we’re going to send Christmas cards (because that would make us officially grownups), but I have yet to do so. But, I swear, this is the year – and this time I actually believe it because of these awesome DIY sewn cards. And in case you love them (or don’t celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, Chinese New Year, or the solstice), I’ve included some fun fall holiday motifs as well. And if you want to extend them into next year, it would be very easy to do hearts, flowers, stars, etc., for a variety of holidays!
Supplies for Sewn Cards
- Scraps of fabric in a variety of sizes and colors (charm, mini-charm, and strip packs provide a wonderful assortment of colors if you don’t have any scraps)
- Paper-backed fusible web – I would recommend Wonder-Under by Pellon
- Machine thread (this is a great way to use up the end of spools and those random bobbins)
- Card stock – I used 110lb white card stock OR pre-made note-cards (note that pre-made cards will not work if you want to add text with your computer)
- Computer, printer, and publishing program (optional)
- Sewing supplies – scissors, rotary cutter, ruler, marking pencil, Sharpie (for marking fusible web)
- Download and print the pattern sheet found here. Make sure to print to 100% (uncheck the box that says “fit to page”).
*See note at bottom about adding wording if you so desire. It needs to be done before the embellishments are added. I like adding words to the interior because then I don’t have to think of something amazing and unique I can just write “love…” at the bottom.
Step 1 – Cut your card stock to the necessary size. I like two different sizes: a side- or top-fold card at 5 1/2 x 4 1/4″ (folded) or a single note-card style at 5 1/2 x 4 1/4″. To create a folded card, cut an 8 1/2 x 11″ sheet of card stock in half lengthwise to yield a piece that is 5 1/2 x 8 1/2″. Fold in half. To create the single note-card, just cut an 8 1/2 x 11″ piece of card stock in half in both directions. Please note: if you wish to add text to your cards, you need to do so before you cut the sheets of paper – see note at the bottom.
Step 2 - Trace the appropriate templates onto the paper backing of the fusible web with a Sharpie brand marker. I’ve included extra pumpkins and a variety of trees so that you can pick and choose what you want to use on your cards.
Step 3 – Attach fusible web to the back of your scraps following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Step 4 – Cut out your shapes using fabric shears or pinking shears. Remove the fusible’s paper backing.
Step 5 – Arrange the shapes on your card stock and fuse down all of the shapes. Note that some shapes need to be layered, such as the two pieces for the Chinese lanterns. Consider how layering some of your shapes can also be used to create depth, as shown below. When fusing on card stock, make sure you use a dry iron on the silk or wool setting. Iron for approximately 3-5 seconds. Let cool under a heavy book.
Step 6 – Stitch down the shapes using coordinating thread. Use old machine needles for this – paper dulls the needles faster than fabric, but the needles also do not need to be super-sharp to puncture the paper. Slightly increase your stitch length to around 3 or 8-10 stitches per inch.
Step 7 – Fill out your sewn cards and mail them!
Optional – if you want to add words to your card, either on the interior or exterior, use a publishing program on your computer to choose a font and design the card. Print the card before attaching any embellishments. If you have Microsoft Publisher they have some easy card templates – you can choose from a variety of sizes. Then choose your wording (such as Happy Hannukah, Merry Christmas, etc.), keeping in mind that you will be adding your fabric embellishments later.
Several years ago while at Market, I discovered a relatively new pattern company by the name of Prairie Grass Patterns. I picked up a copy of their beautiful and unusual pattern called Russian Rubix and ever since that day (which was 2 or 3 years ago), I’ve been dying to make this quilt. Many quilts these days are made with the hexagon shape (which I love!), but this pattern takes it to a whole new level and uses octagons. Now, normally, you can get an octagon by making a snowball-style block by sewing 4 triangles to each of the 4 corners of a square, resulting in a beautiful block. After looking at this quilt, however, I quickly realized that the traditional method of making a snowball block would not work for the Russian Rubix quilt due to its unusual layout. That being said, this quilt is not difficult to cut or piece – just different. In fact, I have some tips to help you cut all of those octagons (and many other unusual geometric shapes) later in this post!
After much wishing and wanting, the day has finally arrived for me to make my Russian Rubix quilt! I decided to make the throw size, which is a generous 57 x 68 (no fighting over this quilt on the couch!). I chose Kona White as my background and added a variety of basics to coordinate. The cool thing about choosing basics was that it was easy to find many fabrics that coordinated, but I didn’t have to worry about cutting up animals or big flowers. It would be very easy to replicate this in different colors – all of the basics can be found on our website here and they can all be found in one section of our store – so pick a color and have fun!
I have nothing to say about this pattern other than it was wonderful! The quilt is beautiful and I loved making it. It is not the fastest quilt in the world to make, but it’s not very involved, either. One thing that I used along the way is a trick for cutting octagons. Because I needed to cut 160 octagons out of my colored fabrics, I didn’t want to make a template, trace around it, and then cut the shapes out with scissors. I also didn’t really want to make a template out of template plastic and spend my time trying to not cut off my fingers. Well, I have a solution for that, and for cutting all sorts of geometric shapes:
- Trace your shape onto template plastic with a Sharpie brand marker and cut out. Hold it up to the original shape to make sure they are identical.
- Using painters tape, tape the template to the bottom of your regular rotary cutting ruler, making sure that the edge of the template is flush with the edge of your ruler. You want to tape it to the bottom because it’s more accurate.
- Cut squares, rectangles, or strips that are the same height as your shape. In this case, I cut out squares. If I were doing triangles, I’d probably start with a strip. The square size was specified in the pattern and it is the appropriate height and width of the octagon.
- Align the template with your fabric square, leaving one of the corners hanging out, and cut.
- Rotate the square and cut off the remaining three corners. If you have a rotating cutting mat, now is the time to use it!
- Repeat with all shapes until completed.
I hope that system helps you with many quilts to come. I’ve used it for a variety of projects when there is no template available, and it’s perfect for the Russian Rubix quilt!
Now, you’ll probably notice that my Russian Rubix quilt does not yet have a border on it. When I picked out all of the fabric I thought I would maybe use a shot cotton in dark blue, but then I ended up not getting it because I wasn’t sure. What do you think? Should I use another basic? Repeat a basic already used? Try and find a print with all those colors to tie it together? I’m at a total loss…
Thanks for your opinion!
One of my favorite things to do is sit in front of the television in the evening with my wife and hand sew. Sometimes I hand embroider, sometimes I do English paper piecing, sometimes I do hand applique, but one of the things I wish I did a lot more often is hand piecing. I often get questions about hand piecing, but it’s honestly one of the easiest quilting techniques out there – you don’t have to worry about 1/4” seams (the way I do it), there’s no heavy equipment, it can travel with you very easily, and there’s no special stitches, rulers, or techniques. I’m going to show you my favorite way to hand piece, although it is not the only way out there, along with some of my favorite tips and techniques to make things easy.
- Thread – 100% cotton, 50 weight in a variety of neutral colors
- Freezer paper (we sell this in store, but is not on our website due to difficulties in shipping)
- Sharpie brand marker (fine tip)
- Needles – I prefer John James #11 Applique needles. Try a few different needles to find what best suits you. You will most likely want a milliner’s or a sharps/applique needle.
- Marking pencil – make sure it contrasts with all fabrics
- Thimble – optional. My favorite is the Protect and Grip thimble.
- Scissors – Larger scissors for cutting out pieces, paper scissors for cutting the freezer paper, and small embroidery sized scissors for when you’re actually piecing.
- Pins – shorter pins are better. I like the Dritz Ball Point pins (most other brands of ball point pins would not be sharp enough)
- Template plastic – optional. If you are going to be making the same block over and over again, it would be better to make your templates with template plastic rather than freezer paper (not pictured)
- Rotary cutter, mat, & ruler – optional (not pictured)
- Needle threader – optional (not pictured)
- Needle case and zipper pouches – optional, but nice for keeping track of your odds and ends
- Fabric – your favorite 100% cotton quilting fabrics!
- Pattern – try to start with a pattern that’s specifically designed for hand piecing
Let’s Start Hand Piecing!
I decided to do a few blocks from one of my favorite hand piecing patterns that we carry: Green Tea and Sweet Beans. This pattern has a variety of techniques resulting in a stunning sampler-style quilt.
Please note: I highly recommend pre-washing your fabrics. You can read all about the pros vs. cons of pre-washing in my blog entry here, but I will tell you that when it comes to hand piecing, pre-washing makes your life easier because A) washing removes much of the sizing, making the fabrics less slippery, B) washing “sproings” the fabric back on grain which will make cutting easier, and C) it helps to reduce fraying – and you will be handling these pieces a lot.
Begin by tracing all of your templates onto the dull (not shiny side) of the freezer paper with your Sharpie marker. Any pattern that is designed for hand piecing will include these templates. Most of the time the seam allowance is not included in the templates (which is what we want). Many of the templates will be used more than once, but freezer paper shapes are reusable up to about 5 times. You’ll note that some of my shapes have been traced more than once when I need more than five pieces. I also include notes on how many times each one should be cut from which fabric.
Cut out all of the templates on the marked line.
Place the freezer paper sheets on the wrong side of the appropriate fabrics, leaving at least 1/2” between all of the shapes. Make sure that the pieces fall on the straight-of-grain. If you are working with angled shapes (diamonds, triangles, etc.) the rule is that the straight-of-grain should always fall to the outside of the block as shown below. This rule is non-negotiable.
The freezer paper sheets should be shiny side down. Using a hot, dry iron, press the freezer paper shapes down for about 2 seconds per shape (or just long enough to stick to your fabric). The longer you iron, the less likely it will be that you’ll be able to re-use the shapes.
Using a marking pencil, trace around the shape with a light hand. Remove the freezer paper. Continue ironing and marking until you have all of your shapes done.
Cut around each shape with scissors or a rotary cutter with at least a 1/4” seam allowance (I often wait until right before I need the shape to trim it to help prevent fraying). You will see that I’m not very precise with my trimming, but it doesn’t matter because I’m sewing on the line!
These are the steps for sewing any two basic shapes together – I’m sewing together two triangles to make a half square triangle block, which I will later add to additional half square triangles to make a pinwheel block:
Step 1 – Choose two adjoining pieces. Place them right sides together. To align your sewing lines, place a pin through the corners of each piece. The pins should stand vertically when you’ve gotten the corners aligned.
Instead of using these pins to hold the pieces together, add more pins – it helps keep everything aligned! Pin approximately every 1 1/2”.
Step 2 – Thread a needle with an approximately 18” length of your sewing thread – no knotting is required. I use beige when I’m sewing warm colors and grey when I’m sewing cool colors.
Step 3 – Take a stitch directly through the corner leaving a 1 to 1 1/2” tail.
Take a second stitch in the same place, leaving a loop about the size of a coin.
Wrap the loop around your needle 3 times and pull through, slowly, until the knot rests against the fabric.
Step 4 – Stitch! This is just a basic running stitch. Your stitches should be approximately 1/16-1/8” long. If they’re a little long or uneven, don’t stress, they will get better with practice.
As you’re stitching, flip your project over to make sure that your stitches are falling on the sewing line on both fabrics.
Approximately every 1 1/2” (or every time you reach a pin), take a backstitch to lock your seam in place.
Step 5 – Once you’ve reached the end of your seam, we are going to use the same knot as we did to start: take a stitch directly through the corner. Take a second stitch in the same place, leaving a loop the size of a coin. Wrap the loop around your needle 3 times and pull slowly until the knot rests against the fabric. Take one more stitch to secure, and trim the thread about 1” from the fabric.
Do not press your seams.
Once you have assembled all of your segments (in my case, half square triangles), it is time to assemble your blocks! Joining two segments together uses the same process as sewing two shapes together, however when you are doing the final assembly of a block, like the two halves of my pinwheel, you run into the issue of crossing previous seams. Here is how to deal with that:
Step 1 – Pin and sew as described above. When you reach a corner, stop and backstitch, making sure to not catch any of the seam allowances.
Step 2 – Pass your needle straight through the bottom of the seam allowances at the sewing line (right at the corner, where all the seams meet) to the next section.
Step 3 – Take another backstitch right at the corner and continue sewing.
Once your blocks are assembled, you can press your seams. It is best to wait until everything is together to decide on the pressing direction. Because all of the seam allowances are left free, I was able to press this pinwheel in a spiral, which makes it super-flat.
The trick to sewing curves is pins. Or patience. I prefer pins. Below I will be piecing a Drunkard’s Path block.
Step 1 – Fold both pieces in half (making sure the sewing lines and the corners align), and finger press the center fold.
Step 2 – Place the two pieces right sides together and align the folds made above. Place a pin straight through the fold on the seam line. Add a second pin to hold the pieces in place. Here’s the important part: pin directly over the seam line and take the smallest “bite” out of the fabric that you possibly can. This will help keep your seam flexible as you sew.
Step 3 – Move on to one of the corners – place a pin through both pieces at the corner of the sewing lines. Place a second pin through the sewing line 1/4” down the seam. By doing two pins instead of one, you will ensure that not only are your corners aligned, but the first section of the seams are aligned as well. Add a third pin between the two vertical pins to hold the pieces in place. Remember to take a small bite out of the fabric, right on top of the sewing line.
Step 4 – Repeat step 3 at the other corner.
Step 5 - Sew the seam as usual, paying extra attention to the alignment of your sewing lines. If you find yourself having trouble, feel free to add more pins – make it easier to align the pins by folding the fabric into quarters instead of in half as described in step 1.
Hand piecing y-seams is so much easier than piecing them on your sewing machine. That means that all of those fancy blocks that you’ve been lusting after are now yours for the taking! I will be showing you how to do y-seams by inserting a triangle in between two adjacent parallelograms.
Step 1 – Sew your first two shapes together as usual (my two parallelograms), creating the y-shaped space.
Step 2 – Align the first edge of your triangle with one of the parallelograms, and sew as usual, from the outer edge towards the center, or y-seam. Make sure to backstitch at the end of the seam, but there is no need to knot and end.
Step 3 – Align the second edge of the triangle with the second parallelogram and pin. This may take a moment, but once you fold the excess fabric away, it’s quite easy. Sew as usual, passing through any seam allowances as if you were joining two blocks (as described above), and backstitching at the beginning.
Step 4 – Complete the seam as usual, knotting off at the end!
There are many other variations out there that include different ways to mark the pieces, cut the pieces, and sewing without a drawn line. They aren’t included here for time’s sake (and length), but one of those alternate methods may work better for you. If you’d be interested in learning some more hand piecing techniques, let me know – I was considering doing a block of the month/sew-along starting early next year here on the blog that would focus on hand piecing. Any takers?
P.S. – Keep an eye out later this month for my tutorial on a fun and easy sewing tote that’s perfect for carrying your hand piecing projects!