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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2020 Sew along - Part 1

Happy New Year friends!

I've been wondering . . .

If hindsight is 2020, does that mean we'll be living this whole year in the future?

I better not dwell on that too long. My brain may explode.

Several months ago I promised a Sew-Along of Elizabeth Hartman's Spectacular Savanna quilt pattern.

Let's get started!

First you'll need the pattern.

If you don't have one yet, you can get one on Amazon or Connecting Threads or many other places on the internet. Alternatively, you can get the pattern with the kit at Fat Quarter shop.

It doesn't matter where you get it, but the pattern will be required for this sew along.

I got the kit.

The kit includes the pattern and all 30+ of the fabrics you'll need to make the quilt top as shown.

You heard me. . . 30+ fabrics.

Other than the background and a solid green, the fabrics are all Fat Quarters or smaller. If you have a large collection of suitable Fat Quarters you may not need to buy the kit.

I have commitment issues with fabric. Time spend making decisions about fabrics is time spent not sewing. So I purchased the kit to spare myself drama.


Read Everything Before Doing Anything

You may remember hearing that from your Jr High school teachers.

Over... and Over... and Over ....

Guess what? Elizabeth Hartman says it too!

The first sentence on page 1 of the pattern says, and I quote,

"Please read all of the instructions before starting your project."

 Yep, she really wrote that first thing. As for me? I agree. Do it!

At least make yourself familiar with the first 4 pages before you start cutting into fabric.

I promise you'll be glad you did.

Do the Seam Allowance Test

Yes, again!

There are how-to instructions on page 1.

Do it every time you start a project.

Then, use a posty note to write down any settings you are using for that project and stick it somewhere you'll see it.

Mine's on the front of my machine. Nothing fancy. Just the needle position (determined by the seam allowance test, for consistent quilter's quarter inch), and the stitch length I've chosen to use.

Jambo, Jumbo

Jambo means hello in Swahili. Most African elephants that I correspond with speak Swahili as a second language. I suppose it's different for Asian elephants. . . .  Anyway . . . . Let's move on, shall we?
At first I thought I'd cut the background fabric as it was needed. That turned out to be a bad idea because I'd end up having to drag out, and square up, the background yardage with each block.

In the end, I simply cut off about a yard of background fabric, pressed, squared, and cut it into the strip sizes needed for the next few animals. (See "Background Fabric for Blocks" cutting instructions on page 2.) Those WOF strips are tucked away in bags with the other fabrics needed for each animal, as suggested in the pattern.

I'm not cutting the sashings and borders yet. I'll do that when we get there. At least that's the plan for now.

Cut the Fabric into Bits

You all know how I feel about little bits of fabric.

I'm surprised I've committed to this pattern if for no other reason than all the little bits to cut.

I found using a small square ruler makes the task less awful. Mine is 4-1/2" square. There's nothing worse than trying to cut 1"squares with a 12" ruler.

But keep your larger ruler handy. Not all the pieces are tiny. Just look at the size of those ears!

Stay organized!

Here are my best tips:
  • If you have access to a copy machine, make a working copy of the cutting pages of the block you are working on. I do this for 3 reasons:
  1. I can cross off cuts as I make them so I know at a glance where I am. This is especially important if I need to walk away.
  2. The glossy paper the pattern is printed on has a lot of glare in my sewing room. The matte finish of copy paper makes it easier to read.
  3. If I need to stop working for any reason, I can fold the working copy in half and use it as an envelope where my pieces can be protected until I return. This is especially useful for those of us with "helpful" pets or small children.
For the elephant I copied pages 2 and 7. Page 2 will be used throughout the project. Page 7 will go into a bag with the finished block to wait for final assembly.
Use stickers to label cut pieces
  • EH (Elizabeth Hartman, the designer) has assigned every piece of fabric of every block an alphabetical name. For example, the elephant has blocks of 23 shapes and sizes. They are assigned letters A-W. Use tiny sticker dots or another method for labeling the pieces. Leave the labels on each piece of fabric until it is sewn into a recognizable unit. As an example, leave the A and C stickers on the respective fabrics until you've sewn them into an ACA unit that you'll recognize, etc.
  • Use a design wall or board to keep units organized. Once the units are sewn as indicated in the pattern, put them back in their place with the other units. I nearly freaked out when I sewed the first ear to the wrong side of the elephant's head. . . .  until I put it back on the design wall and realized I'd sewn it correctly, I was just holding it upside down.
  • There are many, many very short seams in this quilt. Use a very short stitch length when sewing them. I'm using 1.5 stitch length on the very short seams and 1.8 length on the longer seams. When we get to long seams I'll bump it up as far as 2.2 if I feel comfortable. The goal is to have as many stitches holding your little bits of fabric in place as you must.
A Word About Linen

If you have purchased the kit, you know that it's comprised of a combination of cotton and linen.

Linen is beautiful fabric, but keep in mind it is not cotton.

Linen is made of flax. It has some similarities to cotton but it is not the same.

For one thing, it's wound into thicker threads than cotton. Therefore it's thicker than cotton.

General pressing guidelines
EH recommends pressing the seams open. This is probably because linen is already a thick fabric. If you try to press 4 (or more) layers of it to one side you'll end up with a big fat lumpy seam. Ugly!

I am the rebellious child so here is how I'm pressing.
  • When the seam allowance is all cotton with cotton, press to the background fabric.
  • If it's a short seam and has cotton and linen, press away from the linen so it lays flat and the cotton does the folding.
  • If the seam is part linen but mostly cotton, press the linen open and the cotton to the darker fabric. It will require popping some threads at the join. It's ok, you can do that. Or you can just press the entire seam open. That's ok too.
  • If the seam is linen sewn to linen, press open. 
(As you see in the photo, I didn't always follow my rules.)
Last thing to know about linen: because it's woven with fat threads, it's woven relatively loosely.  That means it frays. Because the threads are fat, a single frayed thread looks roughly the same as 2 frayed cotton thread. Imagine a 1-1/2" x 1-1/2" square with 4 threads missing. Not good.

I recommend using starch to press any fabric before cutting. Starch linen twice for good measure. It helps to prevent fraying.

Then handle the fabric with care. Don't move it, or even touch it, more than is necessary. Don't be the reason your linen is fraying.

That's All I've Got for You

I really enjoyed sewing this first block. I hope you will too.

Just work with purpose and care.

It's not a race, you're not in a hurry.

Sew carefully and deliberately. You don't want to un-sew anything here with these tiny parts and tiny stitches. Get it right the first time.

And if you don't get it right and you must unsew? Remove one stitch at a time so as not to stretch or fray the fabric. You'll probably have enough extra fabric to recut small pieces if needed.

Keep any fabric pieces that are larger than the smallest piece in the pattern until the end. You may need it. Hopefully not, but just in case.

See you in February when we're goin' on a lion hunt.



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