Handle with Care

We’re living in some fearful times. While the title of the blog, “Handle with Care,” concerns HSTs, I’d like to take minute to urge you to handle yourself with care during the COVID 19 pandemic. I’m not an alarmist, but I am a realist. We’ve all heard that we need to wash our hands. And we’ve heard a lot about Social Distancing (I’d wager that may be 2020 catch-phrase). However, this is where I’m coming from…

The average age of the average quilter is 62, according to the latest statistics. If that is true, then a lot of us now have parents that are in the “danger” zone of 80 and above. I’m in that group. I need to be conscious that everywhere I go, everyone I meet, everything I touch could have the virus on it and I could transfer that to my mom when I see her. In addition, my daughter, Meg, has a compromised lymphatic system, since her lower lymph nodes were removed in 2018 during her cervical cancer surgery. While she’s only 33, she could have a hard time recovering from COVID if she were to catch it.

We can’t live in a bubble, but there are things we can do to limit our exposure. My Tuesday night Sit and Sew has decided to halt our meetings for awhile. My guild cancelled its spring retreat. Area grocery stores are closing early to allow their staff time to sanitize the stores correctly each night. If I had five dollars for every email I’ve received this week from retail/on line establishments, explaining what they’re doing to keep us safe, I could afford to go to Paducah every year for the next five years.

And speaking of quilt shows, in my area, local ones have been cancelled. Word came out this week that several of the national shows have also cancelled. I live in Guilford County, North Carolina. The ACC was cancelled. Our International Home Furnishing Show has been postponed.

This results in a lot of area stores and restaurants hurting. The vast majority of these closings and cancellations affect the small business owner. Be conscious of that in the months ahead when we are able to get out and mingle freely. If you have to purchase fabric or quilt notions on line, see if you can order from a small quilt shop.

However, in the middle of all this fear, I’ve seen really good people step up to the bat. Local Door Dashers are offering free delivery to senior citizens. The food vendors from the ACC donated their meals to needy kids and families. Utility companies have agreed not to cut off services for non-payment during this time. We’re checking up on our older neighbors and fellow quilters. I hope we can hold onto this attitude after this passes — because COVID will pass.

Handle yourselves with care, my dear quilting friends.

Remember the blog I wrote a few weeks ago about triangles?  I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback on that blog.  Most of it was in the form of questions about how to handle the triangles after they were cut but before they were sewn together.  The blog kind of took for granted folks were sewing the triangles together immediately after they were cut out.  We all know that’s often not the case.  Life happens and sometimes it can be days (optimistically) between getting our fabric units cut out and then sewing them together.  So, with this blog I want to posit that scenario and give you my thoughts about how to store and work with those triangles if there is going to be a bit of time between cutting them out and sewing them up. 

 If I thought there was going to be some time between cutting my triangles out and sewing them together (for instance, if I was prepping my fabric for a quilt retreat that was several weeks away), I would opt for the Sew and Slice Method.  I would go through every step of this process, except for cutting the square in half to make the two triangles.  A square can lie flat in a box for literally years and nothing will happen to stretch the bias.  When I’m ready to work on the quilt again, I would cut the square apart and expose the bias.  In any quilting situation where you’re dealing with bias, wait as long as you can to handle it.

In the situation where the bias is already exposed and you can’t immediately sew the triangles together, starch is your best friend.  I know lots of quilters like Best Press, and if that’s your thing, use it.  The point is use something to stabilize the bias edge.  In my own personal opinion, nothing stabilizes better than this:

When you use starch and then press the fabric with a hot, dry iron, the fabric can take on a paper-like quality, which makes it very stable. The triangles will store nicely, and the bias side won’t stretch.  The caveat to this is if you live in an area where you have issues with moths, be sure to store the triangles in a plastic container with a tight lid.  Moths are attracted to starch and may make a run to munch on your fabric.

If I knew for whatever reason I had to set aside my triangles for a while, I would also plan not to handle them again unless absolutely necessary.  The more the triangles are handled, the better the chances are the bias will become stretched.  If you know you can’t sew the triangles together soon as they’re cut out, hit the fabric pieces with some starch and a hot iron, and then immediately store them flat.  Handle them one time and then leave them alone until you’re ready to sew. 

And speaking of sewing those triangles, there are few things I would like to add in here that I inadvertently left out of my HST post. 

  • When sewing a bias edge to a straight-of-grain edge, sew with the bias on the bottom (next to the feed dogs).  The reason for this is that the straight-of-grain stretches the least and will support the bias edge.
  • If you do have to sew two bias edges together, use a walking foot or dual feed foot and slow your sewing down.  Speed is never your friend when dealing with two bias edges.  If your walking foot or dual feed foot is not clearly marked for a ¼-inch, do some test seams to see exactly where you need to position your needle and your fabric.  When you find this “sweet spot,” mark it with a dab of fingernail polish or use a black Sharpie to indicate the location. 
  • Once the two triangles are sewn together or the square is cut apart in the Sew and Slice method, press the unit with a hot iron (no steam) to set the seam and allow it to cool before opening the HST unit and pressing to the dark fabric.  This helps the unit to hold its shape better and be easier to work with.  After the seam is pressed to the dark side, again allow the unit to completely cool before moving. 
  • Don’t be afraid to pin.  As a matter of fact, I think pins are my BFF when I have to sew bias edges.  It keeps the bias from slipping out of place.
  • Eliminate all unnecessary handling.  I’ve hit all around this one, but make those triangles, sew where you need to, press them, and then put them somewhere you don’t have to move them again until you’re ready to sew them together, or onto another unit.  Store them flat – this takes the stress off the seam and the bias. 
  • Whenever possible, start sewing at the 90-degree angle.

One last thought on HSTs – if you’re still antsy about that bias, paper piece your HSTs.  Yes, you will use more fabric, but not by much.  Keep the papers on until you’ve sewn your HSTs together or onto other fabric units.  Then tear the paper off.  Even if you’re not crazy about paper piecing, this is one method that will pretty much guarantee that the bias won’t be stretched, and your HSTs are the correct size.  If you Google paper piecing half-square triangles, there are hundreds of free paper piecing patterns in every imaginable size that will pop up on your feed.  I am currently making a quilt where I wanted to use a sawtooth border (which is nothing but HSTs), and the HSTs had to be 3-inches, finished.  I had no 3-inch paper-piecing Thangles, but I did find the pattern that made eight HSTs at a time with a Google search.  Use the free internet patterns to your advantage. 

Since HSTs are one of the backbones of quilt blocks, it’s important to learn the best way for you to make the unit.  What’s my favorite way may not be yours, and that’s okay.  This is why we have so many ways to construct them.  Give yourself permission to experiment and find what works best for you.  And when they’re made, take care to keep them from stretching, whether it’s three minutes or three years until you get back to them.

Until next week, Level up that Quilting!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

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