cooking blogs are high maintenance, even when they’re meant to display food that’s just the opposite. i do love to cook, but when something goes awry, i can’t send readers off into sure failure and hope for the best. so, posting on a cooking blog requires an undue amount of testing, tinkering, adjusting and perfecting even before all the photos and writing.
crafts, however, are a different story. sometimes, i think it’s useful to talk about projects wherein most things go wrong. it is posts like these that inspired me to start a blog mainly for crafts, because only a certain audience can really appreciate the challenges. i have been blessed throughout my life to have beginner’s luck in numerous forums. i have noticed it often in cooking, where a new, challenging technique that scares many cooks away somehow goes perfectly for me the first time, and then rarely, if ever, again. but that first-time’s-a-charm scenario has happened enough that i have perhaps a foolish amount of confidence in taking on projects that probably, i should not.
really, i believed that with my sewing machine, making christmas gifts this year would be a breeze. while it is faster than knitting, i hadn’t accounted for all the additional presents i’d need to make in december, the birthdays of new friends we’ve met, the little trinkets to send a holiday greeting to our neighbors (i thought we had 10, it’s more like 20), and the numerous people we were hosting for the holiday itself. it’s much easier to wriggle out of gift giving when recipients aren’t kneeling in front of your tree in your house on christmas morning. but, i’ve been consistently encouraged that sewing projects are fast. and fun! and easy! why not take on a project to impart some new skills? that’s half the fun of hand-making gifts.
for years, since college at least, i’ve imagined i’d love quilting. before i had babies in my life to clothe, i really thought my creative energy would be expended there. i read up here and there about it, but without a sewing machine, it never caught on. now i’m far more interested in making clothing and accessories for people, especially little ones. but quilting has plenty of important and widely applicable sewing skills to teach…precise measurements, using a rotary cutter and quilting ruler, using a walking foot (which i really need to do before i tackle knit fabrics) among other things. and so, i was excited to find this sew along for some nice quilted placemats and napkins for my mother in law. what better way to approach a new skill than with a small, limited project?
there must be better ways. i actually wrote this post a few weeks ago, after all but completing the first placemat, because i didn’t want to forget how ridiculous a mess it became (we just returned from a trip to yosemite backcountry, and i’d been saving this post for just such a mandated blog hiatus).
sometimes, projects seem doomed from the first step, but we must keep going, because we have the materials for that project only, and christmas is days away. first, after thinking long and hard about what the “width” of the fabric is, i cut several pieces along the length. i figured this out halfway through, after which the cutting and sorting went rather well (fortunately, i ordered extra fabric for another project) but took FOREVER. strike one.
the actual patchwork went relatively well, but for one placemat where somehow the pieces got mixed up and i had to put them together a little off course. somehow this did not spell disaster for the remaining placemats (i assumed i sorted the pieces wrong), and my poor math and logic skills will forever leave this incident a mystery to me, but a positive one. this step also took FOREVER.
next up, quilting the placemats. in general, i know what i like when i see it, but sometimes have trouble creating my own vision. so, i simply execute the visions of others, which is why i love the blogosphere. i wanted my placemats to look just like the ones in the sew along tutorial, right down to the little floral quilting pattern. so, i dutifully bought my water soluble marker, drew my 2″x2″ grid, and i even filled in the flowers because i knew it would be difficult to just make them blindly with the needle…free motion quilting is definitely an acquired skill that i have not yet acquired. after four attempts at my first petal, i decided not to ruin the placemats now with wonky flowers, and to do some stippling. i had read about the technique and it looked easy enough, and it was. it also uses an ENTIRE SPOOL OF THREAD. for one placemat. having only scraps of thread left and very limited time to get more, i opted for straight lines on the next placemat, which actually takes longer than stippling, and are really not straight. i actually think it matches the aesthetic of the minimalist scandinavian print better, but now this is no longer a matching set. then i ran out of thread.
and so, i moved on to quilt binding. again, i wanted it to look just like the example. so, i took some scraps of patterned fabric, as suggested, and sewed them into a random spot on the orange binding for it to surprise me whenever i came to it. and surprised i was when, on the random placemat i’d chosen to start with, on the random edge where this pattern found its place, wouldn’t you know it’s the ONE SPOT on the ONE PLACEMAT with a patchwork square in EXACTLY the same pattern. i can 100% guarantee that had i planned to match up these patterns in that way, i would have never succeeded. again, my derth of mathematical ability precludes me from calculating the odds of these two fabrics randomly aligning with such precision, but i can tell you they’re really quite small.
never having bound a quilt, i used this tutorial to guide me. it was wonderful until the piece about joining the two edges of binding. if it was ever present for this project, here my beginner’s luck really ran out. i swear, i examined these instructions with obsessive scrutiny. i read the diagrams over and over and practiced joining the sides several times before i fed it through the sewing machine. but i still did it wrong. while in spite of my rotary cutter and scrupulous measuring my quilt tops hardly came out with right angles and now all appear on a slant, now there’s a crazy, curvy quilt binding all around the edge as well. i switched to the bulkier, right angle binding approach, and on the third placement, finally figured out (but far from perfected) this neater looking approach.
then there’s finishing the quilt binding. the first i did entirely by hand, i think because i didn’t even realize one could do it on a machine. guess what. it took FOREVER. but i think literally in my last inch, i finally figured out how to do slip stitch correctly. the next one i resolved to machine bind with this technique. after reading about machine quilt binding, i learned that many people opt to do it by hand because they find it therapeutic. i would like to find these people and strongly suggest they take up knitting.
of course, this too requires a degree of skill which i far from possess, and failing to catch about half the binding in the back, i still have to hand quilt about half. if i didn’t have myself convinced this ends up saving precious minutes in the long run, i’d hand bind them on, only because i do think it has a neater appearance.
the next day, i made the half hour journey to buy more thread (why is thread not more available?!), and decided to stipple another place mat, and do the straight lines on the last, so at least it’s even. i am so used to hammering out a sewing project during naptimes over one, maybe two days. and every day, i sit down to work on this nightmare project thinking it will be the last day, and every night, close to midnight, i am shocked that i am still. slogging. through. perhaps i should have paid more attention to the fact that it was a four week sew along.
i’m sure i did acquire some new skills (though i never once broke out the walking foot) in both hand and machine sewing. but, as is the case with handmade gifts, and perhaps the leading reason why they’re so wonderful, the recipient will never perceive the same flaws the giver does. they will be blinded by gratitude for the time invested, if not a genuine liking for the item itself. and, even if it feels like a failure, you might still eek a blog post out of it anyhow 😉