Posts tagged ‘learning curve’
I had heard a lot about the GO! cutter when it first came out, because Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims are spokespeople for it, with promotional videos on The Quilt Show site. While I’ve long been intrigued by fabric die cutters, ever since first visiting the fabulous home quilting studio of a guild friend who has the Accuquilt Studio cutter, I didn’t really think of it as being a priority item for me. I thought maybe it might be worthwhile for someone who does an awful lot of applique, but I don’t, and on the odd occasion when I do, I tend to design my own. So while I was glad to know there were die cutters in the world, I didn’t really covet one.
Until… I had stopped by The Finishing Stitch on my way home from a wedding the day before Mother’s Day, and they had a Studio cutter and dies for sale for $600, listed as a $1500 value. A discount that steep is always going to pique my interest, but Finley was getting fussy so I didn’t investigate in depth. However, I started thinking about it more on the way home, and therefore spent some time on the Accuquilt website over the rest of the weekend. The main thing that I learned was how many piecing dies are available. As I am primarily a piecer, and cutting fabric has always struck me as tedious, this was very intriguing. Although a separate die is necessary for each different size or shape, I certainly tend to use certain shapes and sizes repeatedly in my projects (2″ finished half-square triangles certainly spring to mind.) And the idea, reiterated over and over on the website, that die cutting is “up to 90% faster than rotary cutting,” was extremely attractive to a full-time-working mom of two children under 3.
After all, although I know it’s an all-too-temporary stage, I don’t have a whole lot of free time to quilt right now. It’s a trade-off I’m more than happy to make to be involved in Ronan’s and Finley’s young childhood, but I don’t want to completely swear off quilting right now. (And several of the quilts I’ve made in the last few years have been for them, and they enjoy using them!) So anything that speeds the process without decreasing my artistic freedom or my enjoyment of the process is a good thing. I have no interest in using pre-cut kits because my favorite part of quilting is selecting the fabrics, but if I can choose my own fabric and then fast forward to the construction stage without spending such a long time cutting the fabric into pieceable shapes, I will get a lot more done. Additionally, I haven’t wanted to do much cutting when Ronan is awake, because I have an absolute paranoia that he could get hold of the rotary cutter. While there are still blades in the die boards, he would have to do handstands on them in order to hurt himself with them.
So Monday morning, I called Jean… and she told me that she was sorry, she should have taken the signs down, because she was selling the Studio cutter to the new owner of the shop as part of the shop sale. Having just spent the last 36 hours convincing myself that I desperately wanted this thing, it was definitely a letdown. But like Aesop’s fox with the grapes, I quickly recovered by realizing that the Studio would not have been the right choice for me. While it can cut more layers at once, and the dies are more numerous, varied, and larger, the dies are more expensive and the cutter requires a dedicated space, as it is heavy and does not fold up. It really seems like the good folks at Accuquilt really thought about all the factors that prevent quilters from buying a Studio cutter, and designed the GO! to meet those needs. I took my time researching the products and prices (another GO! advantage, as the Studio and its dies are only available through Accuquilt), then finally pulled the trigger in mid-July.
My GO! came in the mail July 23, the Tuesday before my mini-retreat at my house with Rhonda and Diane. I bought it from quilting-warehouse.com which offers significant discounts (30-50%) on the GO! and several selected dies, and although the shipping was expensive and the order took longer than their stated estimate to process, I cannot complain in light of the overall value. I got the 12″ block “mix and match” bundle, which is a collection of eight dies for shapes commonly found in 12″ pieced blocks. I also got some extra cutting mats, the 8.5″ rag square, which precuts the fringes for rag quilts (more on that later), the Funky Flower applique shape, and the 3.5″ mini tumbler, since I’m getting a new niece and a new nephew this fall who will each be in need of a baby quilt. With shipping, this all came to less than $450; accuquilt.com lists the cutter with the 12″ bundle alone at $581.90.
I spent all my work time at the retreat cutting: I cut almost all the pieces for the 2011 Shop Hop blocks; cut down several pairs of Dan’s old worn-out jeans to make a denim rag quilt; and cut 17.5 yards of solids into triangles for the guild challenge this winter. Although I didn’t get to work uninterrupted (see above re: two children under 3), I estimate that it took me less than 3 hours to cut all that solid fabric, so I stand convinced.
I’ve only started piecing the shapes I cut, so I can’t say anything definitive, but so far the accuracy seems excellent. There’s definitely a learning curve to using the cutter, but I’ve caught on quickly. And if using it means I get to spend more of my admittedly limited time on the parts of quilting I enjoy more than cutting fabric, I’m all for it.
Next up, a project I’ve already started and completed with my GO!
So, half a UFO is complete! As I posted before, I still have the other 72 matching Broken Dishes blocks in the UFO box. But I finished piecing the complete set, made a quilt top with the first 72, and I produced a pink quilt to give to a baby girl for Christmas.
The particular strain of Murphy’s law that has afflicted this project was still in effect, though: when I basted it, I pretrimmed the batting and discovered that no matter what the packaging says in regard to dimensions,
I still need to measure twice and cut once. Thank goodness for the Pellon fusible batting tape I bought at the Lancaster show last year!
Since I always like to get some contrast between the piecing and the quilting design, I knew I wanted to quilt curves. I had originally planned to keep the quilting formal, perhaps with a lacy Spinal Twist design from Megan Best in the white “pathways” and then something less elaborate but still following the Barn Raising-style concentric diamonds created by the fuchsia and purple triangles. If I had been trying to make an heirloom quilt, that probably would have been the way to go. However, despite the formal setting and all the white in this top, I wanted to make a quilt that would be put down on the floor for the baby to play on and spit up on, for the cat to lay on and for her parents to feel comfortable stuffing in the beach bag and then tossing in the washing machine. Therefore, I decided to take the quilting in a decidedly non-traditional direction.
I’m trying to become more comfortable with all-over quilting designs that disregard not only piecing lines but also the “pathways” created by contiguous areas of the same color or value of fabric. While I’m certainly not a fan of the overuse of lowest-common-demoninator, just hold the three layers together pantograph quilting, there is definitely a time and place for an all-over design. Hopefully this quilt falls into that category.
I’ve been reading Leah Day’s blog a lot lately, and her recent design “Flower Power” really captured my imagination. I thought it would add some youthful feminine whimsy to this quilt without getting too crazy. I further attempted to keep things upbeat and casual by choosing a Superior Threads Rainbows variegated thread in neon pink, orange, yellow, and lime green. And although I planned out a general strategy for the placement of the giant daisies, I did them completely freehand and without marking. I purposely kept them “consistently inconsistent” so I could vary the size and degree of symmetry as the top dictated, without making any one stand out. And I think overall, I was successful.
Not that I didn’t have problems. I originally planned to get all the quilting done at my recent guild retreat, but I made the mistake of only bringing along some pink Wonderfil thread for the bobbin that absolutely did not play well with the Rainbows on top; after quilting three daisies and having the thread break for the sixth or seventh time, I packed it in and made Shop Hop blocks from 2008 (more on that later.) Not that my quilting was completely free of frustrations when I tried again at home: although Bottom Line was much more successful in the bobbin, I still had trouble with occasional breakage when I’d go through heavy seam allowance convergence areas.
Also, this design really showcased a continuing weakness in my machine quilting because the extremely large petals are essentially long straight lines that require at least one, sometimes more, stops to reposition my hands as I stitch them. (Fortunately I have managed to break myself of the habit of trying to stitch beyond the area of my hands’ control, which has most definitely improved my quilting.) But while I do continue to take Karen Kay Buckley‘s advice from her long-ago class, to only stop a straight line at an intersection to hide any wobbles when restarting (I tried to use seams whenever possible,) my stitch length is still noticeably inconsistent when restarting; I tend to have a few shorter stitches till I get going again. Also, I need to be more cognizant of approaching seam intersections to help prevent short stitches or wobbly lines resulting from the foot getting hung up or deflected by the increased bulk. I think stitching over complex piecing is one of the areas in which domestic machine quilting really has a handicap compared to longarm. It’s not that it can’t be done, obviously, just that I still need a lot of practice to do it well.
But that’s the beauty of a quilt like this: it was far more important to finish this quilt than to try to make it perfect. I’m great at doing but lousy at practicing; the prospect of making a bunch of muslin quilt sandwiches to practice my quilting before embarking on a big project would just drive me away from the sewing machine. Instead, I practice by quilting actual quilts that will serve actual purposes, rather than just being thrown away or stuffed in a drawer. (And no, I am NOT making my practice sandwiches into placemats. If anyone wants to torture me, they can force me to attach binding to a whole bunch of small pieces I don’t like very much.) This isn’t a practice quilt, but a real quilt with a real destiny that allowed me to try something different without too much pressure to make something perfect. And I think the result is pretty, functional, and FINISHED!!!
The back was bought at a discount on the most recent shop hop, and I don’t think I could have found a more perfect match for the fuchsia and purple at any price (not that I brought the blocks with me, so my freaky superpower for color memory persists.) The binding was a stash fabric, and although I briefly flirted with a wild impulse to bind this quilt in lime green, cooler heads prevailed. Maybe that’s what I’ll do for the remaining set of blocks.
For a happy dance, I’ll go with “Almost There” from Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog.” Cassandra gave the DVD to Ronan this Christmas, and I love it! Funny how the one genre where classic movie musicals never went out of style was in animation aimed at children. I also got an education when I researched this number, in that the animators were specifically inspired by the work of Harlem Renaissance painter Aaron Douglas, whose gorgeous work I wasn’t familiar with till now. Enjoy!
Continuing my story…
Friday afternoon and Saturday morning were devoted to my two hands-on domestic sewing machine quilting classes. I feel almost honor-bound to take as many of these as the powers that be at QwM will offer, as I want to do my part to make sure they keep offering them. It also gives me the opportunity to meet, and therefore evangelize to, my fellow DSM quilters who may not know that any of the design-type classes are equally applicable to them as to the more numerous longarm quilters in attendance. We may have to sit through some minor references to canvas leaders and advancing the machine and so forth, but I use that time to meditate about how I can quilt in any direction I choose, for as long a distance as my quilt requires, and how my dining room still has a table in it. Kidding, of course, but Leah Day had an excellent post recently on Seven Reasons Why I Don’t Want or Need a Longarm, which was exactly what I needed to galvanize me pre-QwM against feelings of machine inadequacy. She reinforced the fact that quality machine quilting is possible on a DSM even if you’re not Ricky Tims/ Diane Gaudynski/ Lee Cleland/ Patsy Thompson/ Barbara Shapel/ Karen Kay Buckley/ Caryl Bryer Fallert/ Hollis Chatelain. Don’t get me wrong; if I walked downstairs tomorrow morning to discover that my house had magically grown an extra room with a longarm quilting machine in it, I wouldn’t turn up my nose. But in the real, non-magical world, that’s a huge investment for a huge machine that I’d only use for my own quilts, and buying one wouldn’t automatically turn me into a better quilter, just one with no dining room and a big payment to make every month. The learning curve is still paramount, and the big machine isn’t a shortcut around practicing.
OK, off the soapbox and on to what I did in class. The first was “Freehand Feathers” with Beth Schillig, who has had quilts at Houston and Paducah and used to be a Bernina dealer near Columbus. She was a kind, patient, generous teacher who showed us several feather styles I hadn’t tried before, and I was very happy to have produced these doodle cloths in a four-hour class:
(Click on the pictures to zoom in if you need to, photographing wholecloths is hard.)
The next morning I had “Becoming a Domestic Diva Part 2″ with Penny Roberts, who is primarily a longarm quilter and inventor of longarm gadgets, but keeps her hand in with DSM quilting and was an excellent teacher with a well-thought-out lesson plan. She provided us with a pre-“stitched in the ditch” sample so we could concentrate on the free-motion fun stuff. When she started with continuous curve, I was concerned I had taken too beginner-y a class, but I quickly came to realize that my current lifestyle doesn’t really allow me much time to just play and experiment with my quilting; I always feel like I have to make every minute count so I have to accomplish! Taking these classes was like the “spontaneous activity in a prepared environment” concept from Montessori school: it gave me permission to just goof off with my machine, and I definitely feel the value of the experience. As you see:
Not to mention, through all that in-class quilting, I did not have a single problem with my machine! Not one! I certainly hope this augurs well for the future.
Saturday afternoon, feeling more than a little fried, I finished up with “But How Should I Quilt This?” with Debby Brown. While the class was excellent, the most valuable thing I took from it was finding Debby! She was not someone whose reputation I knew before taking her class, and I’ve greatly enjoyed perusing her blog and checking out her free online videos and tutorials. She was an entertaining lecturer, and really synthesized a great deal of disparate information into a fairly coherent system for helping the quilter focus on a few complementary designs to successfully quilt each top.
This spoke very centrally to my recurrent problem of Analysis Paralysis when it comes to quilting my own quilts: I fall for the fallacy that there is only one way to “correctly” quilt the quilt, and if I don’t find it, the quilt will be a failure. Debby rationally and rightly pointed out that the first step to quilting a top is to simply make a decision. Her next words stopped me in my mental tracks and made me write them down: “Sometimes it’ll be just good enough, but sometimes it’ll be perfect.” I think the reason I found that simple statement to be so profound (aside from sheer mental and physical exhaustion) is what she didn’t say, but I’ve apparently believed to be true, that there is no acceptable alternative to perfection. And the secret, of course, is that there is. There’s good enough. There’s quite nice. There’s really special. What there is not, is COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE OH MY GOSH YOU RUINED YOUR QUILT. Because even crappy quilting results in…A QUILT! Not a top sitting in a box, waiting to be sold in (hopefully) many decades in my estate sale, but a quilt, that gets used and loved. That keeps the baby warm. That gives the cat a place to sleep. That lets me see that fabric I absolutely had to have. That goes to show and tell and hangs in the guild show and maybe gets given as a gift to wrap the people I love in the longest-lasting hug I know how to give. A top can’t do any of that, and it’s not a quilt until it’s quilted.
So I’m going to go quilt those tops. I’ll keep perfection on the horizon, but I’ll try to keep perfectionism at bay. Let’s go make some good enough quilts.
Turning the calendar page for September always seems to sneak up on me. I’ve been out of school for over a decade now, but the end of summer still carries with it a sigh and a plodding return to a less-fun routine. However, this year it also brings excitement: September is the month I go to Quilting with Machines!
Diane and I are returning attendees this year, having had an overwhelmingly good time at last year’s event. At first, I was disappointed to learn that the organizers were changing the time and the location for 2010, moving it further west and from October to September, but that was before I knew I’d be in my third trimester of pregnancy in fall 2010. Attending a machine quilting conference six-and-a-half hours away from home is much more doable at 32 weeks than at 36, when I’m no longer supposed to be more than an hour’s drive from the hospital. (I’ve been fortunate to have a very healthy and active pregnancy to this point, so I have no reason to expect drastic change in the next two to three weeks, but obviously I will be sensible and cautious.)
Last year, I didn’t really know what to expect. QwM started as a retreat for an Ohio longarm quilting guild and has grown over the years into a learning event for all forms of machine quilting. However, as a domestic machine quilter, I was concerned. Despite what the mission statement said on the website, what if the classes were far too longarm-specific? What if the teachers looked down on domestic machine quilters? What if I was wasting my time and money? Of course, all I wasted was a lot of worry. Although the teachers were all well-known longarm quilters, the designs, techniques, and thought processes they taught were applicable to any type of machine quilting.
I came back from the conference with my mind just buzzing with new techniques to try. As Sue Patten said in her Freemotion Freehand Possibilities lecture, “If you don’t go home and practice what you’ve learned, next year just mail me a check and stay home.” With that in mind, I’m trying to do as much machine quilting as possible leading up to this year’s event so that I am in the best possible mindset to absorb the information. I’ll be recently familiar with my biggest strengths and weaknesses in machine quilting, and thus be primed to learn, and ask when necessary, how best to overcome them.
To that purpose, I’ve been quilting as many tops as possible from my stash that were ready to quilt. This Noah’s Ark panel was a cheapie from JoAnn’s that I specifically bought because I didn’t care about it: I used it to test my idea for the addition of lattice strips for Window on Whimsey last summer, thinking that if it turned out decently, I’d quilt and donate it. Now that we’re having a baby, I’ll use it as a “tummy time” playmat for him.
In the Quilt Guilt corner, I’ve been holding on to my mom’s Halloween Attic Windows wallhanging forever. We took an Attic Windows class together at Smile Spinners probably 6-7 years ago (I know it was before I bought my Janome, and that was July 2004.) She made this absolutely charming wallhanging, using fabric that reminded us both of the Edward Gorey animation from the opening credits of Mystery! on PBS:
When I came across it in her sewing room a couple of years ago, still an unfinished top, I asked if I could quilt it for her. She agreed, saying, “no hurry.” This is not a good phrase to use on a quilting procrastinator like me. I’ve taken it to at least three guild retreats with the good intention of quilting it, to no avail. At least I made the positive step back in February to order a spool of Superior Threads NiteLite Extra Glow glow-in-the-dark thread to use on it, but it’s only since last weekend that I’ve actually made progress.
Once I’ve got the bindings on, and the label and sleeve on my mom’s quilt, I’ll post some detail pictures of the quilting. I did some playful experimenting on both, and am very happy with the results.
The third project is, of course, Matt and Alyssa’s wedding quilt. I’ve started quilting it and I like the virtually no-mark design I’ve chosen, but I’m having weird thread problems and becoming very frustrated. I’m using Superior Threads Bottom Line in a pale blue in both the top and bobbin, and while it is usually one of my favorites, I’ve been getting unexpected skipped stitches and having the thread “catch” on the needle. (To be fair, since I’ve used this particular cone of thread before without incident, this is more likely a machine problem manifesting due to the fineness of this thread, than an actual thread problem.) Following the advice on Superior’s excellent troubleshooting pages, I’ve mitigated these symptoms by adjusting my bobbin tension (eek!) and going up to a #90 titanium topstitch needle (their thread guide suggests a #70 or #80), as well as running the machine much more slowly than I’m used to, which is playing havoc with my stitch length consistency. It’s improving, but problems like this can drain away one’s motivation, and of course with all the ripping and adjusting, it’s taking forever. I’ll post a picture when it’s finished.
All this quilting, with its attendant ups and downs, will hopefully not only prepare me for Quilting with Machines, but also for quilting Ruby Wedding. I haven’t basted it yet (it’s 90″ square, thus presenting some logistical challenges) but I’ve pieced the back and made the binding, so I’m getting there. I think I’ve even made most of the design decisions for it. At this point, it’s really just a question of confidence: I’m so happy with how the top turned out that I want to make sure my quilting enhances, rather than detracts from, the beauty of the top. Hopefully all this intensive quilting will help build that confidence, because there’s nothing to it but to do it.
WOW. I got to meet Rachel Pellman!!!
To explain why this was such a big deal to me, we have to go back in time. WAY back, to before I made my very first quilt, to approximately 1986. I have sewn for as long as I can remember: my mom bought a Bernina when I was a toddler, and I grew up watching her make wonderful clothes for herself, me, and my sisters. I have fond memories of spending time at the Stretch & Sew store in La Grange, Illinois while she selected patterns and fabrics, and I must have just absorbed a fascination for sewing through example and osmosis. I was given access to my mother’s scrap bin, and by the time I was seven, I had petitioned successfully to be allowed to learn to use the sewing machine. I made little blankets, pillows, tote bags, bean bags, and eventually some stuffed animals and simple clothes. But I was always looking for new projects and new outlets for my interest in fabric and sewing.
I was fortunate that my childhood and adolescence coincided with the quilt revival of the late 70’s and early 80’s. The back-to-nature movement blended fairly seamlessly into the interest in Colonial life surrounding the Bicentennial, bringing the American craft of quilting to the forefront of society’s consciousness again for the first time since before World War II. (For a really good explanation of this sociological phenomenon, with lots of dreamy quilt pictures, watch the documentary, The Great American Quilt Revival.) My mom bought a handful of the quilt books that were released and promoted during this time; the ones I specifically remember as being the most influential on me were Lap Quilting with Georgia Bonesteel, the original edition of The Complete Book of Machine Quilting by Robbie and Tony Fanning, and The World of Amish Quilts by Rachel Pellman. This last title was the book that made me want to make a quilt.
I don’t know what it was that specifically spoke to me about these quilts: the graphic geometrics, the unusual color combinations, the blend of beauty and utility. By this point, we had moved to Pennsylvania and lived in a rural area with a significant Mennonite population. I was familiar with the Plain people I’d see in their horse-drawn buggies, the women wearing their distinctive dresses and bonnets, and I saw the quilts displayed for sale in various local craft stores and tourist traps. But those quilts were much more contemporary, made for the market, in the same colors that were endemic throughout housewares departments everywhere: remember those mauves and French blues, burgundies and hunter greens, all in fussy little floral calicoes? The striking “dark quilts” that were featured in Rachel Pellman’s book were nowhere to be seen. So, the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I decided to make my own “Amish” quilt.
Now, of course, I approached this project as a fairly typical fifteen-year-old. While I had the interest and discipline to design my own quilt based on what I had seen in the book, I had absolutely no intention of making it in a traditional fashion. For one thing, I hated hand sewing. For another, I was an impatient teenager: I wanted it done already! Therefore, I blended what I had learned from the Fannings’ book on machine quilting with the Amish designs. I would use the sewing machine for every square inch of this project, no matter what. And as I had tried a couple quilt blocks out of Georgia Bonesteel’s book, and knew how long they took to make, I decided my quilt wasn’t going to have 12, or 16, or 20 blocks. It would have FOUR. And they’d be BIG.
In fairness to my adolescent self, I did do some things well. I designed and drafted my own quilt, rather than relying on a published pattern. I researched the process, and I stuck with it until it was done. However, I also did a lot of things I shouldn’t have. I’m pretty sure the whole thing has 5/8″ seam allowances, because I was an apparel sewer. I used a weird, twill-weave, cotton/poly blend for the top, because that’s what JoAnn Fabrics had in the colors I wanted. The batting is polyester; I’m not sure I knew anything else existed, and it has bearded hopelessly. I machine quilted fearlessly, but also somewhat recklessly; there are a LOT of puckers on the back, and I wasn’t ripping out or redoing anything. The binding is really interesting, as I was not going to bother with the laborious process of mitering corners, and the hand sewing on my prairie point edging looks like Frankenstein’s sutures. But at the end of it all, I had a quilt entirely of my own making on my bed.
I went on to make five more bed-size quilts before I graduated high school, as well as a crib quilt and a whole stack of placemats as trial pieces for various techniques that are mostly still in use at my parents’ house. I couldn’t really quilt during college or dental school, although I did coordinate the making of a friendship quilt wall hanging for my sorority chapter during my senior year; I’d bought a second-hand Kenmore sewing machine out of a guy’s car the previous summer, which is a story for another day. But quilting never really left my blood, and once I had free time, floor space, and an income, I picked it right back up, but now with the patience and (hopefully) maturity that I’d lacked in a younger decade. And ooh, rotary cutters had happened while I was gone!
It’s possible that with my lifelong interests in fabric and needlework, I would have found quilting — or it would have found me — inevitably. But Rachel Pellman’s book put me on that path during a very impressionable, creative, and inquisitive period of my life.
And I welcomed the opportunity to thank her in person.
This is Fergus. He just taught me something I did not know about quilt fabric.
And no, he can NOT has cheezburger.
I chose this picture because it illustrates two traits of Fergus’ character that are extremely pertinent to this story: he has a voracious appetite, especially for people food that he’s not permitted to have, and he has no sense of consequences. See, like most domestic cats (really, like most adult mammals that aren’t us) Fergus cannot properly digest dairy products. He loves the taste of them, but they make him sick. However, since the act of becoming sick comes hours after the eating of the tasty cheese, or licking out the cereal bowl, or the yogurt carton, or what-have-you, his tiny brain doesn’t link the two events. And then there’s a mess for me to clean up. Fergus has the additional endearing trait of possessing a knack for finding the absolute highest point from which to then vomit, so he gets to target as many surfaces on as many levels as possible. I’d need Dexter Morgan to track the spatter patterns sometimes. (This is why my husband and I have had so many “talks” about the necessity to rinse out one’s cereal bowl.)
Of course, at some point while I still had the mini-retreat setup in my dining room, including a nice little pile of fabric for Matt and Alyssa’s quilt stacked up on the end of the hutch/cutting table, Fergus climbed up on the adjacent armoire and let his stomach contents fly from six feet up. Gross, but not a huge problem; after all, one of the many lovable things about fabric is that it’s washable. I threw the offending fabric in the washing machine (thank goodness I am a convert to prewashing my fabric in recent years, especially for gifts, but that’s a tale of woe for another day) and it emerged none the worse for disgusting wear — or so I thought. When I went to re-press the individual pieces, I found one exception:
I love metallic fabrics, white-on-whites, Fairy Frosts, and many other variations on applying a surface “paint” to a printed fabric. And while Dierdre McElroy does warn in her lectures and on her “The Perfect Stitch” DVD that they can wear off, and therefore might not be the best choice for an heirloom quilt, I tended to think of that as a decades-long process, not an immediate concern. Yet apparently, a relatively short period of contact with a cat’s used food is enough to strip that surface treatment right off.
My takeaway lesson from this experience is that not only is a “painted” fabric a poor choice for an heirloom quilt, but it is also a potentially poor choice for a baby quilt. After all, babies spit up at least as often as cats, and while they may not produce as much stomach acid, I would imagine the effects could be similar. It would be interesting to approach this as an actual scientific experiment, using an acid solution comparable to human stomach acid, and comparing the results to repeated washing in regular laundry conditions to see how long standard use takes to remove those surface finishes. (Science Fair project, anyone?) I know I’ve washed many quilts containing metallic fabrics numerous times without seeing any visible degradation, which is why I was so shocked to see just how dramatic the Fergus Effect truly was.
So thank you, Fergus. Without your unfortunate digestive issues, the body of quilt fabric knowledge would be poorer.
(He really is a very sweet cat, whose affectionate nature more than compensates for the occasional vomit issue.)
In light of my post about Gyleen Fitzgerald’s vintage block project, I should probably talk about my own. Although, where hers ends with gorgeous quilts and an equally gorgeous book, mine ends with a bunch of scraps in a cardboard box and some wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Back before the recession ripped the beating heart out of the antique trade, my friend Kathy and I made annual pilgrimages to Atlantique City. Held in the Atlantic City Convention Center, it was a mind-numbingly, foot-numbingly huge antique show. While many of the vendors were extremely high end ($55K Pairpoint lamp, anyone?) it was also a great place to find some unusual little items at reasonable prices. One vendor I always had to frequent sold beautiful antique quilts in amazingly good condition for equally amazingly high prices, but also had bins of antique and vintage blocks and tops. Since the focus of this show was collectors, not quilters, their prices for these unfinished pieces were always significantly lower than those I’d seen at quilt shows.
I bought a set of blocks, handpieced, whose fabrics appeared to be 1860s. Unfortunately, as was common for that era, one or more of the fabrics used had disintegrated, most likely due to the mordant used in the dyeing process. Of an original set of fifteen blocks, there were only nine that remained intact:
Suffice to say, they have some problems. You know that rule we’ve all been taught, not to have bias edges on the outside of the block? Yeah, that’s apparently a new rule. The blocks ranged in size dramatically, necessitating some trimming. And before anyone gasps and clutches their pearls in horror, before anyone requires their smelling salts, these blocks were junk. Not to me, obviously, or to the dealer, but to the vast majority of people, these blocks were rags. Yes, they’re old. Yes, they’re handpieced. But we’re not talking about heirloom quality here. They were indifferently pieced: unmatched intersections, wonky angles, ripply edges. And let’s face it, if they had been that important to the original quiltmaker, she probably wouldn’t have left them as a UFO. I think the most respectful thing I can do with these blocks is to turn them into something useful and enjoyable, rather than letting them continue to be a stack of rags in a storage bin. And if that process necessitates a little trimming, even of 150-year-old fabric, so be it.
So: I repaired some damaged stitching, trimmed the blocks where I needed to, eased in fullness where I could, and stitched the nine blocks together in a square, so the diagonal rows of Flying Geese-like half square triangles could flow together. (According to Barbara Brackman’s Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns, the block is called Pennsylvania Pineapple, which I find hilarious and endearing.) I then put some borders around it, using reproduction Civil War prints and muslin to make and add a Flying Geese border. And then I was stuck.
Actually, when in doubt, ask quilters. I brought the top as it stood to my guild retreat in April 2005 and threw myself on the mercy of the court. A very skilled and very missed guild member, Nancy, who unfortunately and untimely passed away the following winter, made a great suggestion: why not turn it on point and do some applique? And so I did:
And here’s where the obstacles come into play. The first one, that derailed me from continuing at that point, is that size matters. It took me a long time to do just one of the four corners, and it became overwhelming and discouraging. This was a very ambitious project for someone who hadn’t done much applique, let alone relatively complex, layered applique.
Which leads to the problem of the learning curve. The applique here was done using Beth Ferrier’s Hand Applique by Machine technique, just like on “Blue Butterfly Day.” Except — this was three years earlier, and I wasn’t very good at it. It’s a little ugly close up, which kept me from wanting to pick it back up once I really learned what I was doing. There’s a strong temptation to let my inner perfectionist out and redo that entire section before proceeding with the rest, which just bungees me back emotionally to the “overwhelming and discouraging” part. There’s some quilt guilt associated with this as well, since a) I took on a 19th century UFO and turned it into a 21st century UFO, and b) after my guild friend Nancy died, I really wanted to finish this quilt with her suggestion in tribute to how much she influenced and inspired me, and I have failed to.
So what do I need to do to finish this quilt? I thought about just quilting and binding it as is, but beyond wanting to use Nancy’s suggestion in her memory, I also think it’s a really good suggestion. I need to take a second look at that applique section and reassess just how bad it truly is. After all, this is never going to be a show quilt due to the vintage blocks, and it’s never going to be a heavily used quilt for the same reason, so neither the perfection nor the structural integrity of the applique is as important as it might otherwise be. If necessary, I could always go back over the “invisible” blind hem stitching with machine blanket stitch or satin stitch. Despite my newfound love of hand applique, I don’t think this is the project for that. I should complete the applique sections with whatever machine applique technique seems most appropriate, put a poison green border around the whole thing, and then quilt the living daylights out of it so neither the hand piecing nor the less-than-stellar applique comes apart.
I can only imagine the original quiltmaker would be pleased.
I can’t put all my UFOs up at once, or this would be the longest post in blog history, but I have to start somewhere, and I may as well start with one that I never dreamed would end up unfinished. As with so many dysfunctional relationships, it all started so well…
My friend Diane and I took a class from Barbara Lenox in 2003 (or so) on Lemoyne stars. I definitely needed a class, because my first attempt at sewing together 45-degree diamonds resulted in bra cups rather than blocks. Now, Barbara has a reputation for being a tough teacher because she insists that you do things her way. But her way works, and what did you come to class for if you just wanted to do things the same old nonworking way?
As part of this, she had us make our class blocks using red and green diamonds. She didn’t want to have to talk about light and dark, or fabric A and fabric B, she wanted to be able to say, “Put the red diamond on top of the green diamond” and have everyone on the same page. It was very effective, but at the end of class I had red and green stars on a pink background, as I hadn’t wanted to make Christmas blocks. They were beautiful and flat — not even a training bra.
At this point in my quilt life, I believed myself to be a finisher. I was not comfortable with the idea of putting these blocks in a drawer for some mythical future project; I wanted to make a quilt. A big, bed-size quilt. And I had just bought my mom a book about two-block secondary designs. So I made a total of 12 Lemoyne star blocks, using complementary colors from the color wheel as the star points with pastels of the three primary colors as the backgrounds. (No one was going to accuse me of not thinking this through.) Then I used one of the block layouts from my mom’s book to make the alternate blocks and join them together.
Then I was possessed by demons. At least, that’s the only logical conclusion to be reached if you look closely at the border fabric I used on this quilt top. I wanted a black background, and I wanted all the bright colors from the top to appear in it to tie it all together. However, I apparently didn’t want to spend any time or effort finding the RIGHT fabric to meet these criteria, so I bought the first one I found:
I won’t sport with your intelligence discussing WHY this is a bad border fabric (for anyone who doesn’t happen to be a 6-year-old playing Pretty Pretty Princess, that is) but I will say that I have no intention of ripping it all out. Since it is actually pieced into the alternate blocks, ripping it out and replacing it would be an exercise in futility and a way to make sure that this UFO stayed unfinished forever. But I do plan to cut the Bad Border down to a less objectionable width and add a pieced border, which I actually made the blocks for within the last 4 years, the last time I tried to finish this quilt.
So what’s the holdup? First off, there’s fear of failure. I have to calculate the right size to cut the Bad Border down to so the pieced border fits properly, and then I have to actually cut it down correctly and accurately. Both these obstacles seem much harder than doing it right the first time would have been, and undoubtedly seem harder than they will be once I muster up to do it.
This quilt also represents another barrier to finishing, the learning curve. In a (wonderful, game-changing) machine quilting class I took in 2004 from Karen Kay Buckley, she told us that people frequently ask her how long it took to make her latest (gorgeous, award-winning) quilt. She said she always wants to answer, “My entire life up until now.” This makes perfect sense to me. Every quilt I make is a learning experience, and I’d like to think that each one gets a little better in some way or another. When I have to “go back in time” to finish a UFO, all the things that I would now do differently jump out at me, and they get demoralizing. In some ways, it seems easier to just move on to a new project that doesn’t have these problems than to try to fix this one.
Some good advice to remind myself of at this point:
“Nothing in life is a failure if you learn anything from it — even if all you learn is, I’m never going to do that again!” — Ricky Tims, speaking at the Ricky Tims Super Seminar, Richmond, VA, July 2007
“Just play. If it goes wrong, fix it. The best things happen from that. If you haven’t done anything wrong, you haven’t done anything right, either.” — Sieglinde Schoen Smith, speaking at York Quilters’ Guild, July 2009
Amen to all that.