Fabric families, human families, the world family… we all have things in common. Just like differing fabrics, some of us are lighter, heavier, softer, rough textured, velvety, shiny-slick, stretchy or unyielding. Some have brighter colors, some muted colors, some with simple or complicated patterns, some are ‘you-get-what-you-see’ solids. It is easy to combine like fabrics into a garment or quilt; cottons sewn to cottons with patterns and solids that complement each other or stretchy fabrics to stretchy fabrics that expand together as you sew.
However, when you decide to combine fabrics from different families into the same project, you often run into unexpected and unique challenges. Sewing a piece of cotton to a piece of velveteen is kind of like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. The velveteen twists and slides against the cotton in what appears to be a decided revolt. It has to be forced to cooperate with pins, many pins, and sometimes choice words, while battling to stitch it together.
As in life, as in the world. How often do we only want to befriend those who are just like us? As a cotton, we are only comfortable with other cottons. They can be plain or patterned as long as they are cottons. When we are paired with a velveteen we balk – as does the velveteen. Often we push back, declaring that velveteen is weird or trying to assert its control over cotton. We forget that each fabric has unique, endowed qualities and is lovely with value in its own right.
Such as with people. So many of the world families are displaced, seeking refuge, searching for a safe home but their transitions are far from seamless. When they try to settle in our communities, we push back; they are not like us, they don’t want to be like us, they will never blend into our life styles. With nobody pinning us together it seems a hopeless pairing.
But, as in sewing, it is possible to overcome the resistance and find friendships and commonality in combining people of completely different cultures, races and religions. We can choose to have a much richer and more varied, interesting life if we can choose to overcome our natural resistance to “different”. And the results: not only a lovely and cherished creation but truly a piece of art.
Blended Fabric Families
Lately, I have been working, or rather struggling with the construction of a baby quilt top using 2 different types of fabric. A while back I came across some beautiful hand-dyed cotton velour fabrics from one of my favorite quilt shops (sewgracefulquilting.com) and I had an epiphany for a quilt top. When I saw the baby quilt pattern “Snuggly Rabbits” by Francoise Coudevylle Bresson, featured in the 2016 Quiltsmania Special Children issue, I immediately imagined a “Velveteen Rabbit” quilt for my daughter’s new little girl and decided that would be just the thing! My daughter’s favorite children’s book was “The Velveteen Rabbit” which we read over and over and over. So, how perfect would that be?! This is the velveteen and the background fabric.
I used to sew clothing of all types but rarely did I ever combine 2 totally different types of fabrics. This project, as I envisioned it, would blend both the cottons and the velours in the applique and pieced flying geese sections. I didn’t even think twice about it as I cut the needed pieces for the project.
I noticed that cutting the velour required a little extra concentration to ensure the fabric didn’t slip under the ruler. It did need new, sharp blade for the rotary cutter to ensure a clean cut and I cut the fabric in a single layer. All this went smoothly.
And then came the sewing. For the velour applique I used a heat resistant mylar product called Templar. I cut out the finished shape of each rabbit body and part from this to use as a template and then cut the velour slightly larger so that the wrong side would wrap around the shape. I used starch and an iron to work the shape around each template. There are many ways to applique but for the velour I chose this method because of the heavy and potentially resistant quality of the fabric. In retrospect I might have tried using a basting glue instead of the starch to temporarily glue the edges to the backside of the templates and then remove the templates after ironing in the shapes. At any rate, this method worked satisfactorily enough for me. I was very careful to iron only the edges I was turning so as not to crush any of the velour. I then used my go-to, Elmers Washable School Glue, to assemble the rabbit parts and affix them to the cotton background. Not bad, so far….
And then came the Flying Geese. And my goose was cooked. (Sorry couldn’t resist that one).
Using the “make 4 geese at once method” I attempted to use my usual whip-em-out techniqes to sew the 2 ¼ inch cotton squares (white) in sequence to the 4 inch velour squares (blue) as shown in the diagrams below. Time after time my geese fell from the sky, crashing to their untimely deaths with the cotton squares slipping off the velours resulting in crooked, wonky and unsuitable piecings. Luckily I had new seam rippers and enough velour to try again.
Round two – PINNING! I really avoid pinning as much as possible, following the adage of some prominent quilters “to pin is to sin”. Even when I sewed garments I used weights to hold patterns in place while cutting to avoid pins. But here it is essential. So, I relented and used my long quilting (flower-head ) pins to secure the cotton squares to the velour squares. The advantage of the long pin is that you can take several “bites” with one pin with a rocking stitch, as if you were hand quilting, which adds a lot of security PLUS you can carefully sew over the pins.
Now, Pin It, I mean using a LOT of pins – like 4 to 5 per square, pinning on the diagonal from point to point of each square.·
Pinning = arrows Blue = right side of velour Pink= wrong side of cotton Red = right side of cotton
I sew from the upper corner, on the diagonal to bottom corner on what will be the CUTTING line later. Some people mark the center diagonal line and quarter inch seam lines of each small square, but I don’t.
Keeping the fabric pinned, sew on the broken lines indicated from corner diagonally to corner. Where the 2 corner points meet (area circled), I suggest tucking the bottom corner under the top
Next, keeping the fabric pinned, sew the next seams ¼ inch away on either side of the cutting-line you previously sewed as shown below by the heavy black lines. The cut on the sewn dotted red cutting lines. After you’ve cut the red dashed line to make 2 pieces.– Your work will look like the triangle below.
Remove all Pins. Press the seams well. Your work will now look like this after you iron the small triangles out
Now you will add the last cotton square to achieve your goal of 4 flying geese. Remember that pink shows the wrong side!! Once again you need to Pin Pin Pin (Arrows), Sew the cutting line (red dashes) first and then sew the 2 seam lines ¼ inch away from the cutting line (black lines) as shown below.
Cut on the dotted line that you previously sewed,remove pins and press triangles out, and you will have:
4 of these Flying Geese!