Batty for Halloween

Bat quilt

Being an American, living in the UK, there are a variety of things that I miss (and don’t miss). I miss boxed cheesy macaroni. The kind with the silver package of artificial cheese spread that you squeeze out of the packet onto steaming hot macaroni shells. I swear they put some addictive chemical in that cheese because, while I’m all for homemade, there ain’t no homemade mac&cheese I’ve tasted that compared to what’s in that box.

Sad.

Another thing I miss? Halloween. Celebrated properly. With lots of little kids dressed up in the neighborhood, ringing doorbells, shouting trick or treat. Candy corn. Caramel apples. My grandma used to give out caramel apples as treats. Mind you, she lived in the country side and you had to be driven there to get them, so she didn’t have to make many. Scarecrows on porches. Pumpkins as decorations. Jack-o-lanterns at every house. Over the past decade or so that I’ve lived in the UK, Halloween has started to be more celebrated here but it hasn’t reached anything remotely approaching US standards. I try my best to encourage the neighbors to get into it by putting up Halloween decorations. I even screeched to a halt in my car the other day when I was going by a specialty greengrocer that happened to have small gourds for sale. Some of them are now sitting on my windowsill for decoration. The acorn squash, quite difficult to find here, is now in my belly.

A decoration I recently completed was my Batty for Halloween quilt, which I briefly mentioned before. I bought some Halloween fabric a couple of years ago when I was in the US during that season and finally found the perfect pattern to make with them. I mean, really perfect pattern!

I used a seam ripper a bit on this one as I did have trouble getting the bat wings from the 3 columns lined up. But the quilt top went together in an afternoon so it wasn’t that bad!

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Because I didn’t have a specific project in mind when I bought the fabric, I only had a fat quarter of the fabric I ended up liking for the backing, and it wasn’t quite wide enough for the quilt top. So I cut some squares from my Halloween fabric scraps and added them to the backing fabric.

Halloween fabric

I machine quilted using stitch in the ditch but, because I followed the bat outlines, you see bats on the back too. Which I’m really loving. Look closely and I hope you can see them too.

quilted bat outline

Then, because I miss candy corn so much, not only did I have candy corn bats, but I bound the quilt with that fabric too.

binding fixed

I’m working on more homemade Halloween decorations. Soon I’ll have too many and I’ll be completely over the top. It’s just part of my nostalgia! Do you celebrate Halloween?

Put a zip in it!

At the end of August, I saw this tutorial for a cute shark pencil case that I thought both boys would love. I showed the picture of the finished product to them and got animated nods to go ahead. I was hoping to have them made in time for the start of school.

Shark fabric

But that was delayed -I just couldn’t get my head around some of the instructions and was less than enthusiastic about putting in a zipper “in the round” no less. I have no formal sewing training and had never put a zip in anything (although I was frequently asked to “put a zip in it” but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t a reference to sewing!). It didn’t help that a lot of comments from crafters about the tutorial indicated that they were having difficulty seeing how the zipper was put in. I have no idea why I decided to go ahead. Partly I didn’t want to disappoint the boys, and partly because I love a challenge – it can’t be that hard, can it?

Ahem.

To make the outside of the sharks, I used Comma pre-cut charm squares, a Zen Chic for moda line. Not sure when this came out but I’ve had it in my stash for at least a year. It’s a great mix of charcoals and black. The inside was a scrap of red fabric that I’ve had in my stash since, well, I started a stash. Putting together the outside of the shark was relatively simple.

Shark body

But I got stuck on number 4. So a clarification of the methods: from instruction number 4 – 8, this refers to the FINS only. Finally figured that one out.

Zip attempt number 25!

Then came the zip (and inner lining). I pinned these two layers to the shark in lots of different ways and then tried to turn it the right side out so that I could see which way was correct. I stabbed myself with pins a lot doing this. When I finally I thought I had it figured out, I started up the sewing machine. A normal foot wasn’t going to work as the space was so small. I tried using my zipper foot – of which I have 0 experience and for which I couldn’t even get it to stay on. So I took the foot off and sewed without a foot. At all. That’s probably all sorts of major sewing rules completely thrown out the door. Afterwards, I thought I should have tried my darning foot, although I’m not sure that would have worked either.

I first sewed the zip to the shark and then sewed the red inner lining to the zip, rather than do both the zip and the lining to the shark at the same time. The primary issue with sewing without a foot is that it is really hard to keep the stitches straight. Once sewn, I used some hand stitches, especially at the mouth corners, to help stabilize the zip.

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All things considered, I don’t think the zipper mouth, open, looks too bad. A bit wonky on one edge because of the wobbly seam.

The main issue is how the zip closes. It hardly looks professional and it bugs me…deeply.

Finished shark

One thing about using templates is ensuring that they are printed out at the right scale. I thought I had printed out the template at 100%, but the final shark did seem pretty small with lots of excess zip (in the end I cut the zipper shorter) and the pouch wasn’t quite deep enough for new pencils. Argh. So maybe I didn’t print it out to the correct scale.

All these problems I could see in the finish. But the lovely thing? When I handed them over to the boys, they saw none of these. They just simply loved that their mum had made them a “cool” shark pencil case, which they now keep in their school desk and contains well-loved (read: short) pencils. So while the imperfections may annoy me, the joy I received from their non-judgmental reaction helps me to move on from those mistakes. In the end, it appears, I learned more from this project than just how to swear at a zipper.

Now brought to you by…the letter S

During the spring, before I really got crafting again, I was stalking following along with the Moda Designer Blog Hop: Spell it with Fabric. Each day a different quilter, or set of quilters, was featured for various letters. If you do a web search, then you’ll be able to track down all the letters as it was a free blog hop. And there are plenty of Pinterest boards showing all the designs.

All the letters were really cute but I didn’t want to make a full alphabet quilt. My boys are a bit too young for that. So I opted for one letter which is the start of both my husband’s and my last name. The letter S. But S on it’s own, while shapely, is rather boring. During the blog hop I saw one designer who had personalized their letter by adding a smaller block within the letter block and I thought that would add a bit of excitement.

The problem was that the designer didn’t add any details about how she added the smaller block. It looked like it was a Sawtooth Star block and I liked the look. The contrast with the curvaceousness of the S with the 8 points of the star appealed. The problem was designing it to fit the S block. I knew approximately what height I wanted the star block to be but the Sawtooth involves half square triangles and, it had been such a long time since I’d sewn, that it took me awhile to figure out how to the size each piece. And I wish I would have saved my calculations…[yet another reason for this blog!]

The letter S in fabric

In the end, I was quite happy with it although it was slightly too large as I wanted to line up the bottom of the star block with the bottom of the top arm of the S. To do that, the top of the mini-quilt ended up being a bit wonky.

Sawtooth Star

Part of the issue was that, when I was piecing this, I hadn’t invested in a 1/4 inch foot. I was having loads of trouble with getting seams to line up. Now I have one – see that beauty below? They are cheap, people, and worth every penny!

1/4 inch foot

I also did some beginning free motion quilting – the trauma of which I’ll post more about in the future.

FMQ

This mini-quilt is definitely not perfect, in a number of different ways, but I like it anyway. It represents my returning adventure in fabric, which I think is pretty Special.

Bound