Improvisation #5: Progress Report


Here’s what I’ve got so far – not necessarily ending up in this orientation and still six blocks to construct for the top. I’m loving how bright this is. Each block has been interesting to make up.

Now that I know what I’m doing, I’ve been able to prep the fabric so I have what I need for the blocks and I’ve tidied up the stacks of fabric (have to put them away tomorrow). Last night I set up each of the blocks – took a backing square (trimmed all of the fabric pieces to 12″), chose two contrast fabrics and a center and put them to one side, until I had all the backing squares set up. So sewing blocks today went much faster because I wasn’t having make all the decisions as I went along.

I’ll get the six blocks for the top finished tomorrow (and perhaps three more to add to the two I have already for the back). I have backing fabric for the quilt which I bought the other day and lots of stuff in the stash for binding.

I still don’t know how I’m going to join the blocks – they need some sashing – the question is whether to sash them symmetrically or to do something wonky with them. I’ll have to ponder that a bit when I have all 20 to play with.

Improvisation #5: The Blocks

The quilt was obviously on my mind during the night because when I got up this morning I knew I wanted to head to the fabric shop for some fabrics in a range of bright colours to use as the large “background” element for each block.

I have ended up with 1/3m of 25 different fabrics (6 fabrics from my stash).

Fabrics for “backgrounds”

Why so much fabric you wonder – well, I figured out the easiest (if most wasteful) way of building that large block is to start with a 12″ X 12″ square of the “background” fabric. Take the block I want to offset, trim a couple of corners off, then lay it on the 12″ X 12″ square.

Block on background

I found if I pulled the block in 1/4″ from the top and left edges of the “background” fabric I can cut out the triangles needed to construct the large square (leaving me with a large piece of background fabric lying beneath the block as leftover, oh well – it’s large enough to use for something else).

Background pieces ready to be sewn

Now I sew the background pieces to the block.

Complete block sewn

Once the triangles are sewn to the block it’s easy to trim it to 11″ and guess what – the pattern is aligned – had I figured that out yesterday I could have salvaged the fabric I ended up discarding.

Finished block

Here are four blocks finished and trimmed to 11″ X 11″. You can see what I mean by “offset” and “background. Each block will be different except for the white with blue dot fabric framing the center square in each block. I’m thinking I will frame each of these 11″ X 11” blocks with a solid white (maybe a slightly off white) narrow frame, and then sash between the blocks. Although a very dark blue framing might work. I’ll have a better idea about what to do when I get all 25 blocks done – 20 for the quilt top, 5 for the quilt back.


Four finished blocks – 11″

So now I know what I’m actually doing, I can proceed to make up my inner square assembly for the remaining 21 blocks, cut out a 12″ square from each of the background fabrics, and full steam ahead! Yeah.

Improvisation #5: A Quilt Begins

Improvisation is a messy business. This is the current chaotic state of my sewing room. Piles of fabric everywhere. I have an idea I want to execute but not sure yet which fabrics to use. I know the blocks will be similar. The final block size I’m aiming for is 10.5″, but I expect each block will be unique – that the internal construction will vary.

I started this improvisation by selecting fabrics from various boxes, largish pieces, small scraps (enough for a 3″ square). This afternoon I began by choosing 24 different pieces and cutting a 3″ square from each.

Here’s the idea – a small square embedded in a somewhat larger square (white with blue dots – the only fabric common in all blocks), which is asymmetrically embedded in a dark square, which is embedded, again asymetrically, in a brighter square, and last, the four layers are set into a final “square” but this time offset and truncated.

This was a first try – not entirely successful. I created the final size block I wanted (actually a bit larger for good measure). But directional fabrics aren’t going to work for the last square! I haven’t yet figured out how to piece that final large square in the most economical way possible – it would be relatively easy with solids. With this linear print I was able to orient three of the segments in the same direction but I wasn’t able to get the fourth piece to align without wasting a lot of fabric (I elected to go for economical to see if I could get away with it, can’t). So I will take this block apart and try again.

In the meantime I’ve decided to build the 24 blocks as far as the 4th square.

Then, I’ll look at them all and make a decision about fabric for that final square – I am likely going to have to go fabric shopping for a couple of different, yet complementary fabrics. Then there’s sashing and a border – not anywhere near that yet!

I love the challenge of problem solving my way through an idea to a completed quilt. Nothing could be more boring than following someone else’s directions. So I’ve learned to be comfortable with the mess involved with improvising.

Double-Sided Bound Buttonholes

I knew the buttons and buttonholes needed more work. First I fixed the buttons: stitched the larger button using small beads to elevate the button and form a shank, placed a 4mm knitting needle under the second button underneath while I was sewing the pair of button to the coat. I was able to end up with thread button shanks, and the second button was lifted enough that I could get my needle beneath and wind off the threads to form the shank! The buttonholes well that was another story.

First here is the finished coat (with the elevated buttons and bound buttonholes completed) from the front:

coat front

Quilted Coat Front

And from the back – fits pretty well.

coat back

Quilted Coat Back

Now for the double-sided bound buttonholes.

I did a bunch of trials to see if I could find a way to end up with a bound buttonhole finished on both sides with a single piece of fabric. Turns out it can be done. Here’s how.

For the coat I cut 3 1/4″ X 2 1/2″ pieces of fabric (I used the contrast fabric from the reverse side, because that’s where the finishing would end up and I thought the binding should match the rest of the contrast elements).

I used a Frixion erasable pen to mark horizontal and vertical center lines, then marked the stitch lines for the buttonhole. Used chalk to mark the distance from the front edge of the coat then placed the piece of fabric so one end of the buttonhole would align with that chalk line.


Using a 1.25 mm stitch length I carefully stitched around the buttonhole, starting part way along one of the long sides.

Finished stitching the buttonhole overlapping the beginning by a few stitches.IMG_7358

I cut the center opening and snipped as close as I could get to the corners without actually cutting the thread (remember I have a stitched buttonhole beneath and this binding had to completely cover it – it did).IMG_7359

Pulled the fabric through the hole, finger pressed the ends with the small triangles, folded the top and bottom portions of the buttonhole fabric so the folds meet in the center, pinned the fabric so I could tack the ends of the fold closed, removed pins and pressed.IMG_7360

Stitched across the ends so they would stay in position.IMG_7361

Folded under the top and bottom portions of the fabric, pressed. Then folded in the ends and pressed. IMG_7362

Carefully edge stitched (using a 2 mm stitch length) all the way around the folded buttonhole fabric to secure it in position – I used a matching thread for the top and a dark thread to match the main fabric in my bobbin so the stitching on the front side of the coat shows but blends in. This is how it turned out on the reverse of the coat.IMG_7363

Here is one of the button holes on the front of the coat. You can see I didn’t have a lot of play room between the buttonhole and the front binding – I was able to just align the buttonhole so the stitching didn’t overlap the binding.IMG_7367

Here are the buttons done up.IMG_7369

The whole looks a lot more finished than it did with machine stitched buttonholes. In fact, having the stitched buttonhole beneath stabilized the fabric so I don’t have to worry about anything pulling away!

So there you have it – bound buttonholes finished on two sides using a single piece of fabric.

The Craftsy Blog gives good instructions for constructing a bound buttonhole, but the expectation is that the underside will be finished by cutting the facing fabric and blind stitching it to the back of the bound buttonhole. In my situation with the quilted reversible coat I had no facing so I had to figure out another way of finishing the buttonhole on the reverse. Same basic procedure but I finished the buttonhole on the second side by carefully folding the edges and ends and edge stitching the fabric in place.


Quilted Coat – Finished

I got up this morning determined to finish the coat. I’m heading to San Francisco on the 31st for a week-long sewing retreat with Sandra Betzina and I want to take the coat with me (to show off, of course, but also because it will be a good weight for the San Francisco early April weather).

First: figure out a way to carry the contrast band to the finished edge – I accomplished that by inserting precisely the right width of contrast fabric into the binding, carefully pinning it so it would align with the stripe, then stitching the full binding to the fronts. If you didn’t know that was a problem I had to solve, you’d never notice how I solved it. Second, add collar and contrast binding to right side (can’t see it in the image because it’s behind the folded down collar). No problems with that set of operations. Third, set in second sleeve, bind underarm and side seam, add wide binding to cuff. Done. Fourth: finish binding along the bottom including mitred corners at the fronts. Went fine.

Next: buttonholes. W-e-l-l that took some consideration. Because the collar is way too tall for me I realized (rather than cut it down two inches and rebind the top edge which I could do) I’ll probably wear the coat with the collar open and use a scarf if I need more warmth. So I didn’t want a button in the collar. I marked the location for the top button at the point where the collar folds. Then 6 1/2″ lower I marked the second (in line with the top of the pockets), and 6 1/2″ below that I added a third to keep the front closed. Bound button holes or machine stitched? I decided to stitch button holes (at least for now – I am seriously thinking about binding them – not a issue, the stitching will just stabilize the cut edge while I’m doing the binding). I checked the sewn button holes before cutting them open (I can always take out the stitching and restitch, but once cut that’s it!). All good.

Last, buttons: I had four buttons I picked up in Bali – actually they are “rounds” created by Jon Anderson the Polymer Clay artist we visited. I could visualize them as buttons so I drilled two holes in each when I got home. The colours are perfect for this fabric. I sewed the buttons on the outside at the same time sewing slightly smaller turquoise buttons on the reverse. Now I have a problem – the buttons are VERY difficult to button up – the buttons on both sides are large and there is no movement room. Because of their size I wasn’t able to build shanks for each side (I couldn’t get the needle through just one of the buttons without creating a very long thread shank) so they are relatively closely sewn. I’m thinking of taking them off and permanently sew the buttons on the main fabric to the button holes and putting large snaps underneath – one set of snaps would work for both sides of the coat.

For now, however, the coat is done and my sewing room tidied up.


Main Side Front


Main Side Back


Reverse Side Front


Reverse Side Back



Quilted Coat

A year and a half ago I made a reversible quilted jacket. I’d had the fabric quilted on a long-arm quilter, cut out the pieces, sewed up seams, bound them with a complementary fabric. The challenge was to figure out a way of creating a faux pocket on the reverse side to allow access to the real pocket on the outside. I achieved that by improvising with a zipper.

Last spring I bought Sandra Betzina’s coat pattern thinking I could use similar techniques I used for the jacket. I liked the tall collar and the contrasting bands. I thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to accomplish the look.

So I had more fabric quilted. Last week I cut out the pieces with some modifications: I cut set-in sleeves from the jacket pattern instead of raglan used in Sandra’s coat; I cut the body a half inch wider on both fronts and the back at the side seams. I decided not to make the welt pocket in the pattern but to recreate the patch pockets (with zipper on the inside) used in the jacket.

I started, following the instructions, by joining yoke and body (front and back) with a contrasting strip. (This was my first mistake – I should have ignored the pattern instructions and thought the assembly through on my own – I should have bound the front edge in the dark fabric before sewing in the contrast!) I’m going to have to take the contrasting join apart, bind the front edges, then restore the contrast band. I constructed and attached the pockets to the outside. 

I inset a bound zipper on the second side first, however, to allow access to the patch pocket, covering the zipper with the patch pocket on the outside. (That substantially reduces the bulk of the fronts.)
The contrast in the back works fine. No need to redo that.

Setting in the sleeve and binding the armhole, underarm and side seams went without a hitch. Tomorrow I’ll inset the second sleeve.

The collar is ready to be attached – I figured out how to apply the appropriate contrast to each side. I can’t add the collar, however, until the fronts are bound because I want to bind that neckline seam with the appropriate contrasts to each side for the second collar contrast used in the coat pattern!

Buttonhole placement will take some thought – I couldn’t easily include them in the contrast seams like Sandra does. I will have to make bound buttonholes like I did with the jacket (covering the construction with a facing using the side two contrast fabric).

I’ll share more after I finish the garment.