Ahh, January. Christmas is getting put away. We’ve had snow days that make you want to just stay inside. Staying in my pajamas until 4. Having a sick kid on the couch one day this week even forced me to sit and watch the Princess Bride one afternoon. I’m definitely liking the slower pace. It feels good to have Christmas deadlines over and to gradually clean up my sewing space. In the process I pulled out my Steampunk blocks that I started a few months ago. (Well, technically, it was a year ago that I took a class and made one block, but October is when I started making them in earnest.)
Since then I’ve made about 12 more blocks and thought I would share the update. These are SO fun and addicting. Plus I’m having a blast playing with wild fabric choices – things that I wouldn’t normally put together. It’s pushed me out of my comfort zone and been so liberating!
Here’s a sample of a few of the blocks that have come together so far…
My process thus far has been to pull the fabric into stacks of three for each block, then mass-cut multiple blocks at once using the templates and a small rotary cutter. When that’s done, I stack the pieces in order in a pile. That way, when I’ve got an extra minute to sit and sew, or when I want a break from other projects (or when I should be doing other things, but I can’t resist sewing another 5 blocks) I’ve got them ready to go.
The piecing is really fun. I loved this pattern for years, but the curves always intimidated me. Taking Jen’s class last year helped me SO much in getting over my fear of this block. She demo’d how to make them with hand-piecing, but they are also really simple to machine piece. (For one thing, the curved wedges have a gentle curve, so pinning works well. I also started using the Curve Master presser foot that I bought a few years ago and it works great. (That foot makes me feel so clever. It took some practice to get used to it, but now I’m unstoppable.)
The center circle does need to be appliqued. You could do it by machine, but I enjoy hand applique, so I don’t mind doing them by hand. I just save up a bunch of blocks after they’ve been pieced, and then do all the circles at the same time. I am trying out the new Aurifil 80wt thread for the first time and it is FABULOUS. It’s so lightweight that the stitches practically disappear.
Another great tool for getting nice, round circles is using the Perfect Circle templates. I struggle with getting my circles to look perfectly round – these are the best tip – especially if you do a lot of applique circles because they come in so many different sizes. They are circle templates made of special plastic that won’t melt if you iron them and you can use them over and over again. Basically you trace the circle template and cut your fabric with a generous 1/4″ seam allowance around the edge. Then you do a running stitch about 1/8″ away from the edge of your cut circle, place the Perfect Circle template inside and gently pull your thread to gather the fabric around the back side of the template. Then using a warm iron, press the gathered circle with the plastic template still inside the fabric – this will give you the perfect circle shape. Gently open the gathered stitches and remove the template, reshape and press again, using some starch to give your circle a nice, crisp edge and finish. I use the 2 1/4″ templates for the Steam Punk circles. (They come in the bigger circle pack. There is also the original small Perfect Circle package.) They are a great investment – especially if you do a lot of applique circles.
I cleaned off my design wall so I could lay out the blocks I’ve made so far and get a big-picture view. This is crazy scrappy already (which is exactly the look I’m going for) but I wanted to step back and see what I still need to bring balance to the force. Also, I need to figure out what fabric I’m going to use for the sashing. I’m loving the colorful addition of the Alison Glass Seventy Six fabrics (available here, here, here, and here) in the blocks. I’m also really liking the darker background blocks – so I’ll probably make some more of those.
You can find the pattern, Jen Kingwell’s Steam Punk, here and here. I’ve also been glad to have Jen’s acrylic templates. They have the added seam allowance for each piece and have super helpful for doing all my cutting. (I have cut my outside pieces slightly bigger so that I have more room to square-up the blocks at the end.)
I’m working on a big project to share later this month, but these blocks are proving a worthy distraction.