Tuesday, July 17, 2012

1st Mario Block & The Discovery of Starch

Cut To Pieces

Summer is a hard season for sewing. There is so much more going on with family and friends, so much more temptation to be outside enjoying the sunshine that is such a rarity in Michigan after October.  A lot of my weekends are reserved for having people staying with us, or for traveling to visit family. This is a wonderful thing, I just wish I felt like I have made more progress this month!

Another wish of mine would be for some rain. In the city I live in, we haven't had rain since May. Okay, we got 1/2" of rain in June, but that is nothing! And no rain so far in July. Temps are soaring into the 90's on a regular basis. My grass is dead, my plants are thirsty - come on rain! It'd sure give me a good excuse to spend a large chunk of time in the sewing room. ;)

Last night I started working on my Mario quilt! My fiance and I are big time Mario fans - it's the only game we play on the Wii together. Making this quilt is something I've been really excited about. After making the first block, I'm a little.. worried. Here is how the process of making my first Mario block went down. If you aren't participating, it might not be that interesting, but you might skip down to the part about "cutting the squares", where I talk about starch!

(Wow, this turned out to be a long post!)

I bought most of my fabric supplies online, but I didn't pick up the fat quarter pieces, because I knew I was going to get this big package of Kona layer cake sized solids in the mail, from a swap I participated in. This is such a treat! I just want to stare and sort and re-sort these babies. So pretty. :) I was thinking I'd be able to pull some of these to make up for the fat quarters I didn't buy.

I couldn't find the wash out stabilizer that Angela recommended for using with this quilt a long. I ended up buying the lightest weight Pellon fusible they had at JoAnn's. This is supposed to  make sewing these tiny 1.5" square blocks together a breeze. Unfortunately I didn't have that experience, which I'll talk about more further down the post. I am really worried that this quilt is going to be... Very heavy. And very stiff.  Hmm!

If this quilt gets finished, I am toying with the idea of using something besides batting for the center, to cut down on the weight. Flannel? Has anyone tried using an alternative to batting, and what was your experience? By the time this quilt is finished, it will be winter, but I don't want to get smothered by video game characters in my sleep! Lol.

Cutting the fabric into squares
1.5" squares need to be very accurate. I recently heard someone say they use starch every time they quilt, to get a very crisp, flat fabric when ironing, and to stiffen it up for accuracy when cutting and sewing. I figured this would be the best time to try it out, because of the tiny pieces I'll be using, so I picked up a can at JoAnn's.

I cut small sections (like 9 or 12 inches wide) off my yardage, so I wasn't cutting 1.5" strips off a 3 yard stretch of fabric. I would lay the small section out on the floor and spray it down with starch, holding the can about 6" - 8" from the fabric. I didn't soak it, I just did a light, even spray. I don't know what starch will do to the carpet, but I don't really care about mine personally, as it's already somewhat trashed as a result of being in the sewing/craft room!

I would flip the fabric over and iron the other side that I didn't spray. I don't know if it matters, it just made me a little nervous to press an iron onto the wet side. It probably doesn't matter. Press the iron down, but try not to "push" the fabric around, because the starch will stiffen the fabric into a stretched position. Just press.

Cutting was definitely easier with this starched fabric! I was really impressed. I plan on continuing to use the starch for this quilt, I think it really helped with the accuracy of my block cutting. But boy, it took a LONG time to cut these squares! And cutting is my least favorite part of quilting. I just may take a day to cut a LOT of the squares out all at once so I can just get it over with. :P

Layout out the squares
This was the fun part, though it took a lot longer than I thought it would. Make sure to double check your work, because it's easy to place the wrong square down - I did it half  a dozen times! I only ended up laying out as many blocks that would fit on the width of interfacing I had.

I drew a grid onto the stabilizer this time, but I might not do it again. If you draw one straight line down the center, and then one perpendicular line across the width, you'll have your start lines and you can work from the center out. Everything should keep square if you get the first blocks right.Though I'm not sure I should be giving this advice, as you can see the white gaps between the blocks above!

Fusing the squares to the stabilizer
Ugh. This was.. almost disastrous. I've used interfacing before, but not in this way, with all these tiny pieces. I should have followed the directions more carefully.

The directions say to get another large piece of fabric wet and lay it on top of your work. I didn't do that because I was afraid it would mess up the squares and move them out of place. I now actually think it might help keep them in place, but I could be wrong.

I just took a spray bottle and dampened my squares. Whoops! This made the squares curl up on the edges - all my hard work was compromised! I had to be extremely careful with the iron to flatten out the squares without shifting them.. it was really hard. And it didn't turn out "perfect", but it was pretty close to perfect. But I wanted it to be perfect. You know how that goes - it's our hobby, we want to get better at it, we want to be proud of what we are doing. The little gaps between the squares drove me crazy. But it's okay. What's that saying? Keep calm and quilt on...

Sewing the rows
Halleluiah! Finally, an easy step. Right? Not so much. For the first round of sewing, yes, it's easy. The interfacing wants to fold along the rows, so just fold, sew, repeat.

Shave just enough of the seam allowance off to separate the interfacing and you are ready to sew the other direction.

The other direction turned out to be SO HARD! My sewing machine did NOT like sewing through all those layers of fabric and more fabric and interfacing and more interfacing. I needed my walking foot, but as that doesn't have the 1/4" edge on it to make sure my seam allowance is accurate, I couldn't really use it. The result was that my rows got really wobbly!

Finished block

I am disappointed. I can't use this interfacing again, that's just not going to happen. It's too hard to sew through everything on my machine with enough accuracy to make me satisfied. And the block is very stiff. It takes a long time to put this block together, so to end up with wobbly rows and a block that is so heavy - I need to make some changes.  

I'm going to try to sew the next block with NO interfacing. It might be really difficult. I'm going to stay positive! I want a finished quilt that has straight rows and doesn't weight 30 pounds, so I think this is the solution. The wash out interfacing is an option, but I'd have to find it (which is apparently kind of difficult) and it's expensive. So it's probably not really an option.

Another possible outcome is that these blocks might turn into throw pillows. Sigh.. On the bright side, I'll have a huge stash of solids!  All that un-used blue. Lots of possibilities!

Thank you to anyone who is actually still reading this, I didn't mean for it to turn into such a book! I don't know if I would even read a post this long, so I don't blame you if you just skimmed through to look at the pictures!! :D

Another big thank you to Angela, from Cut To Pieces, for organizing this quilt-a-long.  It really is an amazing quilt. :)

P.S. We've been watering our garden like crazy because of the drought - just look at this little watermelon! Oh my gosh it's so cute!!!

What is better than a little watermelon? A BABY watermelon! Ahhh!! Things in miniature are always adorable.


  1. I use flannel all the time as it's more lightweight, easier for my little machine and much much cheaper!! Works just as well :) Good luck!!

  2. You can definitely do it without. I didn't use any type of stabilizer or backing on my squares for my Mario quilt. They still take a long time to sew together, but the block won't be stiff. You'll just need to be very accurate with your seam allowances to make sure things end up square. It's really easy to get off with the super tiny pieces. You can do it! :)

  3. well for what it's worth, I think your block looks amazing! I know that these are deceptively time suckers. Each step takes more time than you think it will. After all, it's just squares right? ;)

    I just got a discount code for the washaway interfacing I'm using which I'll be sharing tomorrow. It will be 20% off, so maybe that will help.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience! Keep it going. I think each block gets easier because you get a method down.

  4. Argh! I was frustrated for you in parts of this. It's so annoying when we have it all planned in our heads how things will work or how long they will take, and then...that just doesn't happen (see also: way too small oven mitt.)

    That said, thanks so much for sharing your step-by-step experiences. At this point in my quilting career, it is so helpful to see what things work and what things don't, and not just finished pictures of perfect projects! :)

  5. Your block looks great, I have made a block with the P44, if that's what you're using, and I agree it's got more "heft" than I would like. I am planning to try the 542 next but agree that the price was pretty high. I was lucky to have a friend who sourced it for me at a discount....which still left it expensive! I am using the Oh, Fransson! tip to make a muslin grid and place the interfacing down on that so you don't have to keep drawing the grid...keep it up!! If you want to see my efforts, I blogged at http://krislovesfabric.blogspot.com/2012/07/cart-before-horse-or-boo-before-qal.html

  6. What about using the washable stuff for doing embroidery on t-shirts and such... is it cheaper maybe? Or is it the same product... not sure lol...

  7. I had a very similar experience to you! It is so frustrating when something doesn't turn out the way you want. Your block does look great though! My 'pixels' turned out all different sizes and a lot of them aren't square. My sewing machine hates thickness too and I ended up too short on one side, because I had trouble sewing through all that fabric/interfacing! Hopefully it is just a "getting used to the technique" thing and Luigi comes out better!

    That baby watermelon is SO CUTE! Love it!

  8. I have only cut my pieces so far. I am using a very light fusible interfacing, 1) because it was inexpensive and 2) because I am making throw pillows for the game room and don't mind the extra weight. I hope you aren't too discouraged... your block looks great to me! I am sure you will get into the swing of it and find a solution! :)

  9. I am not in the QAL, but I loved reading your story! I learned a lot! Thanks for taking the time post!

  10. Omg, I'm so impressed with Mario. You have to be so accurate! Your squares look amazing!

  11. I use starch, every time, no matter what. It just rocks so hard and I love pressing so much more when I use it. As for interfacing, yikes. I think it will soften up with each wash, as I once accidentally fused it to the damp dish towel (totally use one next time! once it's wet it's practically see through, so you'll know if you messed up your squares when placing it over the top) and I still have it, many washes later, and it's soft and cozy. I don't think your quilt will be too heavy, but you definitely could use a flannel for the batting, it's been done and works just fine. Although, if it were me, since the top will be so heavy, I'd find a denim for the backing so the top and back have similar weights. But that's just me and totally isn't necessary. Good luck!

  12. I haven't started my blocks yet. I feel so behind. But I did want to chime in and say that your block looks fabulous to me! I know I'm a million times harder on myself than I should be.

    I've used thrifted flannel sheets for batting before and I love how light it is. My machine was being kind of finicky at the time so I had to play with my tension the first time but I've got a stack of sheets now for when I don't want to use regular batting.

  13. I've sewn with 1" finished squares with no starch and no stabilizer, and you just have to really be cognizant that every little stretch will warp the finished product. I've had really terrible experiences with starch. Why don't you paper piece them with tissue paper or something?

  14. You have a map that says I love Michigan, but not all of the state is there!

  15. I was just reading my machine manual and found something I'd never paid attention to. Adjust your presserfoot tension if the going gets tough.

  16. I once made a pillow cover using this technique, and I pressed my seams to one side. Let me just say, it was a huge pain in the butt to sew in the other direction! Way too thick. It helps to look at this tutorial:
    Also, I've made about 7 blocks so far and I've learned that if you try to maintain a quarter inch seam in both directions, you will definitely get one side longer than the other because of the bulk of the interfacing.
    I like to lay one piece of interfacing slightly on top of another piece to get the size I need before I put down the squares. That way, they iron together and you don't have to worry about sewing two pieces together afterwards!


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