Tuesday, 19 April 2016

365 Challenge mini blocks

Hi everyone, I hope you are having a productive time sewing as we roll into Spring here.  I have been really busy gardening; if the borders aren't under control by the end of this month it will be too late to do anything more and I will regret it all summer!  I love this time of year, when it is all just about to kick off: in a couple more weeks there won't be any bare earth to be seen.

Apart from the garden and all the other stuff that has to be fitted in to daily life, I have started, belatedly, on the 365 Challenge (only three and a half months behind), and have been madly trying to catch up in the evenings.

If you haven't heard of it (I hadn't till about a month ago) a very clever lady from Australia called Kathy started this challenge on 1st January 2016. The idea is that you make one block a day every day for a year. Each day there is a new traditional block pattern to be downloaded. At the end of the year you have a large sampler quilt. Here is the link if you would like to have a more detailed look at what is involved.

I got interested because I had some fun making the Moda Sampler Block Shuffle, though I haven't laid out and joined the blocks yet, let alone quilted it. Should I really be starting something new?  I think we all know the answer to that! I have decided that maybe sampler quilts aren't so bad after all.

I did consider making the Splendid Sampler which lasts a year also, but I am a piecer at heart and didn't much want to make the applique and embroidered blocks.  Then I saw my friend Sylvia's little blocks for the 365 Challenge and was immediately sold on this project.  Sylvia had seen the ones made by her sister-in-law in Holland where the idea has really taken off among quilt groups.

So for the past month I have been downloading the daily block patterns.  Just a word of warning: at some point soon the  earliest patterns will be removed, so if you fancy joining in you should go over to the website sharpish, though Kathy has said she will be running  the challenge again next year.  I get the block patterns emailed to my inbox as I'm not on Facebook, but I understand there are several active Facebook groups (including ones in French and Italian) if you like to see what other people are making on a daily basis, and you can access the patterns that way too.

Last week I finally had a little time to make a start, and I am totally addicted!  Here are some of the blocks I have made so far:

The blocks are graded in order of difficulty and often Kathy will introduce a new technique and start again with easier blocks, grading up as you progress in complexity and in the number of pieces in the block.  So it is a good way to try new techniques and develop precision piecing skills.  Because here is the downside, the punch to the solar plexus: these blocks finish at only 3" square, yes, I do mean THREE INCHES SQUARE! So the little squares in the four-patches below finish at half an inch.

Deep breaths, don't panic, it is not as bad a s it seems. Surprisingly you do get used to working with such titchy pieces and your accuracy will improve. In fact, I fully expect to find that the 6" blocks, which I anticipate we will move on to shortly, will seem quite large, not to say positively gross!

Sorry about the not terribly good photos - I just wanted to give you a flavour of the variety of blocks. They are just roughly pinned up and I haven't even tidied up some of the loose threads.  But I am quite pleased with most of my points.  Kathy gives lots of helpful hints for oversizing and trimming to help with this.

The other fun thing has been using relatively low contrast fabrics; mine are all in different blues. Sometimes it seems as though the piecing and more complex geometry is hardly visible, which may seem to be a bit of a waste, but actually I think it is rather clever and the low contrast draws you in and makes you really look at the piecing.  The reason the blocks are all in darkish shades of blue is because they will form the inner frame of the quilt and they need to be a strong contrast with the rest of the quilt.

So most evenings over the past two weeks have found me spending a couple of hours catching up with past block patterns.  I have now managed to do the whole of January and February (not counting the inner medallion which is 28 and 29 Feb) plus the first week of March.  I can make about 7 blocks a night. It depends on the complexity of the blocks and sometimes I jump about so I have a mix of simpler and more complex blocks each night.  I'm not sure I will ever get to the stage of making one each day; I think I would prefer to have a mini-blitz once a week when I have caught up.

If you decide to join in, my top tip would be to cut a few strips in various widths and shades and have those handy so you can mix and match your fabrics within each block.  That will help to scatter colour and value through the quilt.  I have managed to use mostly fabrics from my stash but I was lacking in very dark navy so I did buy about seven long quarters. This is what my dining room table looks like most of the time now!

Because the blocks are not very big a little fabric goes a long way, but you do need a sufficient variety to be able to maintain interest. I have just decided to throw in a little dark brown to break up the blue just a little.

The other suggestion I'd like to make is regarding pressing.  I sometimes think that as patchworkers we spend as much time at the ironing board as we do at the sewing machine, and certainly it would be hard to make a quilt well without an iron.  However, for these little blocks I did not want to have to keep hopping up and down to the ironing board to press lots of very short seams seams, so I have tried finger pressing and that has worked well.  It has speeded the process of making the block and also, I feel, avoided the possibility of distortion.  I do not press till the very end of the process.

I also have chosen to finger press many of the seams open rather than to one side.  This means more careful pinning to match rather than butt seams, but it has helped to distribute bulk within very small areas.  I know that Kathy in her intro recommends pressing to one side  and I would normally agree, but I feel that with such small blocks with so many pieces it is better to press at least some of the seams open.  Here is an example of the front and back of one of the more complex blocks:

Enough from me for now: I am off to France on Thursday to Pour l'Amour du Fil quilt show.  Hope to take lots of photos to share with you next week!  Have fun yourselves, whatever you are up to.
A bientot,

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