Monday, February 3, 2014

Well preserved quilt block swap, year round beginner friendly swap

Last year's Rainbow Connection swap was a huge success.  I know I am taking a chance going in a different direction with this year's beginner friendly year long swap but I am hoping it will appeal to a new group of beginners (we have many more members than we did just last year at this time) & maybe not-so-beginners as well.  We will be making...jars. 

I was looking for a very simple block that could support some variety & still forgive typical beginner mistakes.  At the same time, I was seeing (& remembering seeing) a number of "things in jars" quilts crash & burn because it was so much trouble finding enough different things to put in all those jars.  & I understand not everyone wants a quilt of nothing but jars, but these jars can be used with other blocks (among them our June 2014 block Books by the yard) or as a row in the row quilt trend that is exploding right now.

You can make pretty much any jar style or size you like, but I am asking that all jars include the following elements: 
  • for each jar you will need a jar fabric (more on that later).
  • a lid fabric.  For the lid fabric, please use a solid or subtle print of any color or colors except solid white or even mostly white, because that won't show against the background (if that seems obvious, keep in mind this is a beginning quilter swap & nothing is obvious to the inexperienced).  This is not the ideal place for any high contrast pattern as it will hardly be visible; this is not enough space for a large scale pattern to play out, so save that for another project.
  • & a background fabric.  Your background fabric MUST BE WHITE.  Ideally, plain old garden variety bleached muslin, although white broadcloth would be fine.  You could also use a white-on-white (WOW) fabric, but please do not use anything with any other color than white for the background.  This boycott includes fabrics that are mostly white with a subtle, almost invisible cream patterns or white with tiny pastel polka-dots or flowers or whatever.  I am harping on this because there was not-a-lot-but-some confusion last year re: what constituted "white fabric for the background".  A number of the examples in the links below have black backgrounds but please do not be confused:  the background for this block must be white & only white. 

& now the jar fabric.  This was a bit of a dilemma:  should it be limited to only things that are real (no stars in jars)?  or even more specific, as in just bugs?  or should we only have opaque jars (I tossed that one right away because wouldn't that be just too dull)?  In the end I decided anything goes for the jars.  I mean anything.  Anything anything anything.  That being said, please try to put yourself in another person's shoes.  I have some fantastic dachshund fabric & while I love doxies (& I know there are quite a few other doxy lovers in the group), I will not be putting dachshunds in jars because it is unlikely to be generally useful.  I am guessing most people are likely to be working on a Kitchen theme or even a Mother Nature's Pantry theme or Kids Classroom theme or Sorcerer's Apprentice theme or whatever & there are just so many better choices that would work with most if not all of those.  Also little weiner dogs floating in a jar is, in my view, just too creepy. 

For this example jar I looked for something generic jar-wise (like seashells or ladybugs or feathers or flowers or you get the idea), & in the end I choose a neutralish fabric that sort of reminded me of a set of canisters I once saw at Ikea & I am still kicking myself for not buying.  For other (practice) jars, I have used solids & added text from another fabric.  One fat quarter of a fabric with random text was adequate to make labels for six jars with plenty left over to do spines for a few books in Books by the Yard (our swap block for June 2014).  I also made a "conventional" bug jar with ladybugs & so forth.  I have some more off-beat fabrics, but I am keeping them for my own jars & swapping those that are more universally useful.

Now, I am going to make a jar & provide the directions, step by step.  The jar I am making is more or less, but not exactly the same as the basic jar block found here.  The key differences are:  I am using a WHITE BACKGROUND (if it seems like I am harping on this it is because I am), there is no background fabric below the jar (this is so all our jars can line up on a straight line), the background piece at the top is slightly larger (to meet our block height requirement of  12.5" unfinished), & lastly, the background piece on either side of the jar begins with a 1.5" strip (although this is optional UNLIKE the other changes, I strongly recommend you stick with this as it is narrow enough to let the jars line up closely but wide enough to forgive a too-deep seam allowance).

Take your jar fabric (you will only need one piece of jar fabric for each block although you may choose to piece a jar with a label, or applique a label or whatever) & four small squares of background fabric (again not all jars need to have four rounded corners, tis is just my example).  In this example I began with a jar fabric square of 8.5" by 8.5" & four white background squares of 2" by 2".  You can pencil a stitching line on the back of each of the smaller background squares, but they are so small, you might be comfortable just pinning & stitching.  Because you will be stitching along this line, please avoid anything that will bleed through as it will show on your finished block.   Cover each corner of the jar fabric, stitch, flip, press & clip.

Alas, I did all this & forgot to take photos, so these are smaller jars but the exact same technique

Next you will make the lid piece.  Take the lid fabric & add the two background rectangles to each end of the lid.  I cut a piece of lid fabric 5" by 2" but this is the kind of thing you can strip piece as you get more comfortable.  My background pieces were both 4" by 2".

As you can see, this made a strip that is slightly longer than the jar.  Because this is a beginner swap, I left some wiggle room for slightly undercut strips (a common problem with beginners) & too deep seam allowances (another common problem with beginners).  As you get more accurate (or if you are already accurate), you will not need this buffer & you can calculate the exact dimensions for your own jar.  In the interest of being perfectly honest, I rather wish I had gone .5" to .75" longer with the lid fabric, but this is a live-&-learn type block so I am moving forward wit it as is.

After I centered the lid on the jar, I stitched it, pressed it & carefully cut the extra background from the over-long lid strip.  Then I added the 1.5" strip of background to either side of the jar. 

At this point experienced quilters may have noticed that while I have provided a block height (the unfinished height of your block, from the base of the jar to the top of the background should be at least 12.5" & not more than 12.75"), I have not provided a block width.  This is because the widths will vary depending on the kinds of jar you choose to make.  Beginners are likely to make big square jars (I encourage you to start with the big square jar given here), but more advanced quilters are free to challenge themselves with something more elaborate (or something that works better with the fabric they have on hand).  You also do not need to make a square jar like I did, there are plenty taller than they are wide jars out there, jars with handles, jars with nobs on the lid, there are lots & lots & lots of different kinds of jars.

So you have your jar, with 1.5" background strips at the sides.  Press it & measure the height (from the bottom of the jar to the top of the lid).  In the case of this jar, my block was 10" exactly.  If yours is not 10" exactly do not beat yourself up; turn over the block & look at it.  Chances are the problem lies in the seam allowance attaching the lid to the jar.  If this seam allowance is 1/4" or larger go ahead to the next step (yes, yes you want to work on that seam allowance as it will plague you in the future, but you don't need to be perfect here).  However if the seam allowance is less than 1/4" (or if your seam allowance is wobbly & dips bellows 1/4")  you MUST rip it out & redo it.  A seam allowance of less than 1/4" will not stand up to ordinary wear & tear.  Actually, even if your seam allowance is plenty deep, you should still rip it out if it is wobbly; wobbly seams are a curse to work with & no one wants to get a block like that.

In my example, I cut a background strip of 3.5", stitched it to the top of my jar.  After pressing & trimming the edges (being careful not to cut into the background on the side of the jar but instead using that as the guide) I had a block that was taller than it need to be.  I lined up the 12.5" line on my ruler with the bottom of my jar, & cut along the edge of the ruler to get a block that was exactly 12.5" tall.  Please stop & measure & make sure your block is between 12.5" & 12.75" tall.  If it is more than 12.75" double check your measurements & cut it down to size.  If it is less than 12.5" tall rip off the background piece you added to the top of the jar, recut your background piece & try again. 

DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES just add a bit more background.  This passes the problem on to the next person.  I have been on the receiving end of blocks with .5" strips around the perimeter to bring them up to size & they are a bear to work with.  So let me be clear, if there are PIECED BACKGROUNDS above or to the side of the jar, you will get your own blocks back.

Now for a few examples.  I found several free jar patterns & most any of them will work for this swap with a few changes.  The Two Bug Jar Quilt Block Pattern offers two different sizes.  Neither jar has the corners at the bottom & that is perfectly fine.  You will need to make the side pieces slightly wider (remember all our side units begin as 1.5" strip) & you will need to add more background to the top (both of these blocks finish at 9" while our block should be 12.5" unfinished).

The Tall Jar Quilt Block, would also work.  It makes a slightly shorter & much narrower block, but again we are aiming for a uniform height & a variety of jars.  You will need to eliminate the background fabric from beneath the jar, be sure to use WHITE for the 1.5" background strips at the side & reconfigure the background piece at the top to give you the correct 12.5" unfinished height we are looking for. 

In addition to these, there are slews of other jar patterns.  Some have more elaborate sides or lids, some are tipped over with contents spilling out (not a great choice for a beginner but might give you something to aim for).  There are ginger jars & mason jars & cookie jars & so long as you meet the requirements (white back ground, no back ground below the jar, 1.5" strip of white background on either side, white background above bring the block to 12.5" unfinished in height) you can go as crazy as you want.  Below are two of the blocks I made, one is the block made with the instructions, the other is made the same way but began with a 5.5" square.  Notice how the smaller jar is a narrower block but just as tall.

You do not have to specify what block you are making when you sign up; there is the distinct possibility that some of the jars will be similar but I am confident there will be plenty of variety. 

As in 2013, I am limiting sign up to six people each swap.  You make six blocks of the same jar, using the same jar fabric, send five & get five different jars back.  You can sign up for more than one swap BUT you must use different jar fabric each time & I would encourage you to try a different jar each time (maybe the same jar but a different size).  Sign up is only through the Facebook group, the deadlines etc. are specified there, but this will be more or less the same as last year.  The six spots for jars due the last Saturday in March 2014 will open ASAP.  Once those are full, the next set due the last Saturday in May will open, etc.  No one can sign up for more than one set in any given month & if you fail to meet the deadline for a swap for which you have signed up, your name will be removed from any future swaps you might be signed up for unless you have a really good reason.

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