Monday, April 29, 2013

Rulers Rule

About 25 years ago, when my civil engineer father visited my apartment, he came out of my bedroom/quilt studio and asked if I would like some help with measuring.  When I asked why, he said that I seemed to have a great many rulers, and did I really need all those?    One scale and he was good but I, as a quilter, COULD get by with just one or two rulers but....why?  (Thanks, though, Dad.)

I have succumbed to buying many specialty rulers that I thought would make my quilting life faster and easier, but to this day are languishing in various nooks and crannies of my studio.  I probably couldn't find all of them at this point.  I have no doubt that there are quilters who would love to have them because they would work for them but they just aren't my thing.  (If you're looking for a ruler, there's a fair chance that I own it.)

So, for a long time I worked with just 3 or 4 rulers:  the must-have 6" x 24" (if  I could have just one this would be it), a 6" x 12", a 6" square, and a 12-1/2" square.  I also bought a 15-1/2" square recently but for most squaring up of any size I still use the 12-1/2" square--and it has the worn edges to prove it. (I'm too embarrassed to show in a photo!)   I suppose I'm something like Alton Brown and his kitchen tools--the only single-purpose tool he allows is a fire extinguisher. 

However, I have found a few specialty rulers that have changed my tune about specialties.   They are all for making pieced units that could be made by one of my standards rulers but the units they make are so perfect, it makes piecing much more fun and precise.
(Disclaimer:  I do not work for, nor receive any sort of compensation from, these companies; I just love these rulers!)

First--my new favorite--is the Bloc-Loc half square triangle ruler.  There are SO many half-square triangles in traditional patchwork and, when I told a knitting friend that I would make a reproduction Civil War quilt that has around 1200 small half square triangles (yeah, who thought THAT was a good idea??)  I was in need of a tool that would make that job easier.  After many years, and trying many methods for these units, I found the best method for me is to make the units slightly larger and cut them to size. So, I fell in love with the Bloc-Loc, which has a channel cut through the ruler so that it locks over the seam.    So, there's no wobbling over the seam that results in slipping or wonky corners.  I can use a ruler that's larger than the unit because you can turn and slide the ruler without picking up the ruler or the unit.  It is, hands-down, the best, most accurate way to make half-square triangles that I have found.    Even making 1200+ units that finish at 1-1/2" doesn't seem so daunting any longer.

Next, I discovered the Rapid Fire Lemoyne Star Ruler.   I have always loved Lemoyne Stars but absolutely hated making them; I was never happy with how they turned out.  With this ruler, I can't stop making Lemoynes. Love it, love it, love it.  (I'm working on my fourth quilted piece with it and that isn't going to be the last.  Have I mentioned that I love it?)

Finally, the most recent find is again from Bloc-Loc: their flying geese ruler.  It also has a channel that locks over the seams.  In this case, you have to have a ruler for the specific size of unit you're making but it makes units so accuratethat  I was willing to invest in that.  (The incentive is making dozens of Sawtooth Stars for signature blocks that will take the place of a guest book at my retirement reception in a few months.)

To get the units to the point you see in the photo I use the method that Eleanor Burns demonstrates when using her ruler.  (I used her ruler, and loved it, until I found the Bloc-Loc; that channel makes all the difference to me.  Thanks, Eleanor, for this method and for your ruler, which I used for many, many flying geese.)

And here are the blocks I'm making.


What are YOUR favorite rulers?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Designing Design

One of the things I love about teaching (and learning--I ALWAYS learn things when I teach) is giving people a chance to expand their notion of what they can do, especially in creating a quilt that is theirs, and not a recreation of someone else's.    As beginner quilters we, quite logically, do a lot of making quilts like others' as we learn the craft.  But it isn't long before most quilters start to put their own fingerprint on a quilt:  choosing fabrics themselves instead of using a kit, changing a little something about the block or the settings, adding or deleting borders--lots of things that may seem small and not "designer," but which really are the quilter doing her own thing--designing.

Now, don't get me wrong; I'm not opposed to kits and sometimes I see quilts that are just so "me" in color choices that I covet something just like it, but I also like to tweak things just a bit.  When quilters ask me exactly which fabrics I used to make a quilt I'm flattered that they like the quilt, but I'm also a little sad if they don't have the confidence yet to pull some fabrics out and find something uniquely "them."  That's one of the things I love to do--help them to find their own style, to develop confidence in making choices that will become something unique and expressive of their own style and taste and personality.

In quilters I see people who are just itching to express their creativity and when they have developed just a bare minimum of skills it's time to give them a place to explore new ideas and techniques, to develop some of their own, and to just feel the sheer joy of creating something new and so personal that it expresses you, at that moment in your life, and how you feel.    I can't tell you how many times quilters in my classes, when asked about the first quilt they made, say they did a king-size Double Wedding Ring or some very complex pattern because "nobody told me I wouldn't be able to do that one when I was first starting out."   I did my best custom quilting on my longarm before I knew that I shouldn't be able to do all that right off the bat.

In an ideal world I'd have quilters feel, from the beginning, that quilting is here for them to explore and enjoy, a sandbox in which to experiment and do something "wrong" that turns out to be so right.    Everyone is creative; there are few things in this life about which I'm certain, but that's one of them.   The world tends to try to "teach" the creativity out of us but, trust me, we are ALL creative.  For some of us, that creativity expresses itself in fiber and fabric, and you owe it to yourself to explore your own creative spirit--the expression will be one of joy.