Posts tagged ‘Quilting with Machines’
Our guild program for April was a presentation by professional longarm quilter Barbara Persing and her sister, quilt shop owner Mary Hoover. Together, they are the designers behind the quilt pattern company Fourth and Sixth Designs (so named because they are the fourth and sixth in birth order in their family.) I enjoyed their trunk show of quilts and the affectionate banter between the sisters. However, the most valuable piece of information I took home was that Barbara had a book coming out just a few weeks hence, about choosing quilting designs and threads for your quilts. Since this is probably the single biggest current issue in my quilting, I anxiously anticipated its release.
Imagine my pleasant surprise when Dan got it for me for our anniversary last week! At first I thought he’d been super-stealthy Observant Guy and had noticed the advertising card I’d picked up at the meeting and had placed on my studio whiteboard, but it turns out I’d added it to my Amazon Wish List so I wouldn’t forget about it, and he’d just found it there. Still, the result was the same.
And it’s just as good as I’d hoped! Barbara starts by giving an overview of her “Four Questions” that should be asked before planning the quilting for any quilt. This isn’t a new strategy; Kim Brunner and Debby Brown each suggested a form of this approach during their lectures at Quilting with Machines, as do several of my favorite machine quilting books (more on them later.) Barbara Persing has managed to set herself apart by streamlining the discussion into an easily accessible system that any quilter can apply to any quilt. As a big fan of systems, I was hooked.
Basically, what she and all these other knowledgeable quilters are saying is that the secret behind choosing appropriate and complementary quilting designs for any given quilt is to identify what kind of quilt it is and how it will be used. There’s no point in doing gorgeous heirloom “bump-back” feathers on a busy print Turning Twenty quilt you’ve made for your nephew to take to college. (As Mark Lipinski famously said when he spoke to the Letort guild a few years back, “It’s just going to get covered in beer and DNA.”) Likewise, if you’ve taken the time to needle-turn applique a Baltimore album quilt, you probably don’t want to stitch a pantograph over it all.
The latter 2/3 of the book is really a peek inside Barbara’s thought process as she quilts nearly 30 different quilts in four different categories: Child/Youth, Traditional, Contemporary, and Art Quilts. (She acknowledges the arbitrary and incomplete nature of these categories, but you have to start somewhere.) Each quilt has at least one page devoted to it with a 1/4-page photograph of the entire quilt, and inset closeups to show quilting detail. At the bottom of each page, she takes us through the way she answered her own questions for that particular quilt, from the larger generalities of degree and style of quilting, to the specific design chosen and thread used. I particularly enjoyed the attention she pays to thread choice, which has been a bugbear of my quilting lately and doesn’t usually get much press.
“Listen To Your Quilt” is in many ways the player that was up till now missing from my dream team lineup of machine quilting books. With only 70 pages to work with, the author doesn’t dwell at length on the subject of selecting quilting designs to complement particular design elements in the quilt top; she simply mentions that shapes from a fabric print can be mimicked or echoed , or that she used wave-like quilting on a blue quilt. I would recommend that anyone who is looking for a more comprehensive discussion of the process of designing the individual elements of the quilting should see “A Fine Line” by Melody Crust and Heather Waldron Tewell, which is twice as long and really explores this topic in depth, but doesn’t offer such a structured, practical blueprint. In “Machine Quilting Solutions,” author Christine Maraccini provides less variety of sample quilt pictures but more specific “how-to” diagrams of three different levels or intensities of quilting designs for each of the tops depicted. I would finish out the essential book shelf with “Quilting Makes The Quilt” by Lee Cleland, in which the author accomplished the Herculean task of quilting FIVE different versions each of TWELVE quilt top designs (yes, that’s a total of 60 quilts!) so that we could see just how much the quilting design choice can influence the final result. With these four books in my arsenal, I feel properly educated to choose the quilting for any quilt I might make.
Some prospective readers who quilt on domestic machines may be concerned that this book is intended for longarm quilters. I can reassure you that this book is all about planning, not technique; the only mention of longarms is in her biography. If anything, the fact that she is quilting customer quilts, of which she has no input in the design, makes her approach even more relatable for me. I am not yet to the point in my quilting where I am designing my tops with the quilting in mind, as Ricky Tims and various other renowned quilters recommend. I am reacting to my own quilt tops much like a professional quilter who is seeing a customer’s quilt for the first time. While this is a mindset I’m trying to change, it made this book more applicable for me for the time being.
What “Listen To Your Quilt” does not do is teach how to machine quilt, and this was absolutely fine with me: that information is abundantly available from other sources. While there are some simple freehand, free-motion designs depicted on the last few pages, there are plenty of other collections of quilting designs available. What is usually missing from the books that tell you how to machine quilt, or provide you with designs of what to machine quilt, is an explanation of why you should (or shouldn’t) machine quilt a given design on a given top. “Listen To Your Quilt” is an excellent fulfillment of an underserved area of quilting education, and would make a useful addition to most quilters’ libraries.
Way back in March, I had posted a picture of the quilt I was making for Ronan. I had finished Arianna’s quilt to give to her on the day both babies were baptized, and I really did believe that I’d finish Ronan’s quilt shortly thereafter. So here we are, more than nine months later, and hey, it’s done! Obviously, it’s not that I’ve been working on it all this time, just that the small amount of studio time I get these days hasn’t been devoted to this project. I put the borders on over the summer, pieced the back, made the binding, spray basted the quilt, and… stopped. It was mostly fear of ruining this quilt top after all the thread problems I’d had, especially considering how many seam intersections there are in all those hourglass blocks. However, Halloween Buzz Saw was a great confidence builder, so I was willing to venture a try. My guild retreat the first weekend in December was a great opportunity to get a large portion of the quilting done.
I started by stitching in the ditch with the walking foot to stabilize the whole quilt top, which allowed me to start the free motion quilting wherever I wanted to. In this case, I wanted to start with the feathered border. I’d been excited about this border ever since Quilting with Machines, since it was really the only place on the quilt where elaborate quilting would show. I used Robison-Anton #40 polyester thread in a light blue to quilt a Patsy Thompson-style free-motion feather after marking the spine and a 1″ margin inside the borders, then echo quilted on either side of it using Isacord polyester thread in a light tan. Although I’m happy with the overall effect, I had expected the light blue to contrast with the taupe border fabric enough to stand out slightly, and I expected the light tan to blend in more closely and nearly disappear. Instead, the opposite happened: I think the tan has better contrast with the border fabric than the blue. I can’t call it a failure, not by a long shot, but it’s a learning experience, and hopefully not a mistake I’m going to repeat.
The next section to be quilted was the hourglass blocks. I did have some difficulty getting my free motion quilting foot set properly to deal with the bumps where the seams meet, but I found that switching to the closed circular foot attachment rather than the open-toed one I’d been using solved the problem. It’s a little harder to see around, and it requires an extra step when starting to get the thread ends out, but it glides over lumpy block centers rather than getting hooked on any imperfectly pressed flanges of fabric. There must be a good reason why this is the style of all the longarm feet I’ve ever seen! I think I’ll be using this one from now on unless I’m working on a wholecloth, which isn’t particularly likely.
Since I knew the heavy piecing and busy prints in this section weren’t going to allow anything fancy to show, I kept it very simple: just some continuous-curve-variation loops. It looks prettier on the back than on the front, and I’ll have to remember it as a filler pattern for the future. However, once again I learned something about thread choice, in that I wish I had made a different one. I used the same fine tan thread that I’d used in the border, which means it vanishes in the light and medium triangles but contrasts highly in the dark ones. In retrospect, I don’t know if the better choice would have been to use a variegated thread, which would have played peek-a-boo throughout all the patches, or to use something that would have contrasted with all the fabrics, like a fine orange thread. I just know I should have used something other than what I did. It’s not terrible, just not right.
I’m happier with the results in the applique blocks. I used the fine blue thread from the border and quilted more heavily over the applique than I ever have before, because I didn’t want to take any chances with a little boy peeling off the pieces. The monogram block got an allover freehand mini Baptist fan, which only shows up on the dark letters but looks good that way, and the hearts block has echo quilting inside the appliques and a loop-de-loop filler in the background.
The large blocks featuring the owl print were left for last, in part because I kept equivocating as to what I was going to do with them. This print has so many large solid open areas that I didn’t want to just do a stipple-equivalent filler pattern, but it has enough busy areas that I didn’t want to get too elaborate, either. I also want to introduce meaning through the choice of quilting design whenever possible. So I traced Dan’s, Ronan’s, and my hands and used our handprints as the primary design, stitching them in orange So Fine #50 by Superior Threads. As this wasn’t enough quilting for these large patches, I then went back in and stitched the loop-de-loop filler in the light blue thread, as well as a heart inside each handprint. I am entirely happy with how these sections turned out. I love the idea that in years to come, Ronan will be able to place his hand over his tiny handprint and see how much he’s grown.
The binding is scrappy, using the longest dark taupe scraps I could find among the leftovers from Taupe Winding Ways. I made the binding over the summer when I finished the top and pieced the back, and I made more than twice what I needed for this quilt: I have no memory of whether that was a conscious decision or just bad math! Oh well, I know this isn’t the last project I’ll have a use for taupe binding on, so it’s not going to waste.
What’s a Ronan-appropriate happy dance? This was my best guess:
Happy Halloween, everybody!
I started this blog with the intention of its being a chronicle of, and a motivation for, finishing my UFOs. True, my life over the last 21 months has been rife with more changes than I could ever have anticipated: getting pregnant, losing a job, traveling the country, finding a job, having a baby, learning to balance the whole job/baby situation. Thus, I really shouldn’t be particularly hard on myself over the fact that this is only the second true, preexisting UFO I have finished since starting this project. But all recriminations aside, the fact remains:
I FINISHED MY HALLOWEEN BUZZ SAW QUILT!
I’ve referenced this quilt here before due to the minor fabric miracle I experienced, but I hadn’t told its full story. It’s possible that this quilt was my oldest UFO, as I believe it may have been only the third quilt I started when I got back into quilting roughly ten years ago. To begin at the beginning, I love Halloween and always have. Considering I love theater, sewing, and candy, it’s pretty much a natural. My sisters and I always had homemade costumes thanks to our loving, creative, Bernina-having mom, and as soon as I was able to contribute in any way to the construction of my own costumes, I jumped right in. I was a wizard, a werewolf, the Grim Reaper, a pumpkin-headed Headless Horseman, a witch doctor, and a basket of dirty laundry at various points in my costumed career. At one point, I made an octopus costume for my sister Cassandra. So I’ve been collecting Halloween fabrics since before I was quilting; in fact, some of the fabrics in this quilt were purchased while shopping with my best friend from college, Nichole, who died in August 2000. At the time, I didn’t know what I would do with those fabrics, but I knew I had to have them.
I believe it was probably fall of 2002 when we went to visit Kathy and Doug in Haddonfield, NJ and I saw a shop model quilt I absolutely loved at The Little Shop. They had used multiple dark Halloween prints, and then one light fabric as the background. I bought the book and decided that this would be a great showcase for my collection.
Here is where my woeful lack of experience came into play. My previous quilting endeavors had primarily revolved around solids, so I didn’t have much real-world knowledge of how value worked with prints. I laid out my fabrics on the dining room table and realized that I had two distinct piles: prints with a purple or black background, and prints with a cream or orange background. In large pieces, these two groups definitely read as “dark” and “light,” so I thought that rather than mimicking the book or the shop model in having just one light print, I would get to use more fabrics by making both value families scrappy.
You see where this is going. What I failed to recognize in my naiveté was that when you cut a medium to large print into 2 1/2″ strips, you inevitably cut through some of the motifs. And on a light-background print, those motifs are dark, and vice-versa. So when I sewed my strips together, the competing prints just bled into one another and completely lost the sense of the larger design. Again, my inexperience meant that rather than evaluating the situation as I sewed, I just blithely pieced along until I had the whole thing done. I held it up to behold my triumph and saw– a mess.
I sought out the advice of Diane and Rhonda, who agreed that the wild mishmash of prints caused the intended swirling pattern to be lost. We all agreed that the eye needed somewhere to rest, so I took the twelve blocks apart and sashed them with an undeniably light fabric, an orange ditzy print on a cream background, with lime green cornerstones. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough of the sashing fabric to go around the outside edge. My plan was to use plain muslin, possibly with an orange stripe pieced into it, as a replacement, but I wasn’t entirely satisfied with this idea, so the top was put aside as a UFO.
This actually wound up working in my favor, as I subsequently found the sashing print on the bolt at Quilt Quarters. But by the time I came triumphantly home with my fabric, I was wrapped up in other projects. Every year since, as Halloween has approached, I’ve thought about trying to get this quilt done in time for the holiday. Unfortunately, October is also the month that guild challenges are due, and I’m usually working down to the wire on those. But this year, the planets all aligned: I had chosen not to make a challenge quilt, as I didn’t want to start another project when I had so many unfinished; I wanted to get some tops ready to quilt in preparation for quilting higher-stakes projects like Ruby Wedding; and it was, after all, nearly Halloween.
The outer sashing and border went together nicely, despite the fact that my piecing from lo these many years ago was woefully uneven. The blocks finished at an average of 14 1/4″ (?!?) and they varied a good bit block to block. But this was never a quilt for show; this was a salvaging of a fun collection of fabrics as well as a bit of an object lesson. I had to piece my border fabric, especially as I wanted the bats to be right side up the whole way around the quilt, but it made me feel thrifty and virtuous.
I used the bamboo blend batting from Pellon Legacy, and this is the first of their battings I’ve been disappointed in. I’ll have to see how it behaves with wear and repeated washing, but while I was quilting it and the excess was exposed around the edges, it shed like mad. I had little fuzz balls all over the quilt top. It’s definitely softer and better draping than Warm & Natural, but overall I wasn’t impressed. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by all this wool.
I wound up taking a relatively short-notice trip to Pottsville, PA for a military dental event the third weekend in October, and since it’s nearly two hours from my house, I had a hotel room for Friday and Saturday nights. Pottsville isn’t exactly a vacation destination, so Dan and Ronan stayed home. To my mind, the only way to find a silver lining in being away from my family for a weekend was to turn my hotel room into a travel quilting studio! Housekeeping must have gotten a kick out of this:
My hotel stay gave me a solid start on the quilting, and momentum carried me through so that the last stitch went into the binding with five full days to go before Halloween! I quilted the whole thing using the Superior Threads Rainbows in Piñata that I had bought at Quilting with Machines, and the only marking I did was to divide the sashing into quarters for the freehand pumpkin seed design (I love using that on Halloween quilts.) I used Sue Patten‘s “Questionable Question Mark” with flames along the spine in the buzz saw centers, and placed strings of pearls and some weird little flaming heart things I invented in the orange corners of the blocks. The lime green cornerstones got spirals, and the outer border was done in piano keys using my Accents in Design ruler. I loved doing the quilting; I had no thread problems whatsoever! I can only hope my luck holds.
The backing is one of my favorite fabric buys ever, Skull-finity by Alexander Henry. I had bought 6 or 7 yards of it at JoAnn Fabrics (of all places) a few years back, and I used the last of it on this quilt. I put a piece of the selvedge on the label so I can’t forget that name.
The binding was scrappy, since I didn’t have enough of the lime green bat fabric from the cornerstones, but I had plenty of similar hue and value scraps from my Tucson Saguaro guild challenge quilt from 2007.
This quilt was a terrific confidence builder in many ways: 1) I really can finish my UFOs, even if it takes nearly a decade. 2) The piecing doesn’t have to be perfect. 3) The quilting doesn’t have to be perfect. 4) My machine and I seem to have reached detente.
I think this quilt deserves a slightly different type of happy dance:
I was very well-behaved at the vendor mall for QwM: I did not buy a single piece of fabric! Not one!
(And no, I wasn’t sick.)
Part of it was the realization that I am so over full-priced fabric. First of all, I don’t need anything. I could quilt for literal years without needing to buy any fabric. I can possibly justify buying some larger pieces for borders and backs as needed, but over all, a fabric has to be pretty darn special for me to feel comfortable paying full price for it– especially now that full price is $10.85 or more per yard! The cotton price increase I had posted about last year has definitely arrived, giving a whole lot of quilters a pretty significant case of sticker shock not only at recent shows, but also at the local quilt shop. And since it’s usually the shiny new full-price fabrics that vendors bring along to the shows, not their discount rack, I only had to use a small amount of willpower to keep my wallet in my purse. If I’m going to buy any full-price fabrics, I’d rather give the business to the quilt shops near me who have given me so much in return over the years by way of service, support, advice, and the fostering of a greater quilt community.
Besides, this was Quilting with Machines! There were so many other fun things to buy that I definitely can’t find at my local quilt shops. MeadowLyon Designs was indeed there again this year, and as I posted when I had finished Ronan’s Minkee Dragons quilt, I had planned to buy at least one or two more of her “pictogram” designs. Well, she made the proverbial Offer I Couldn’t Refuse (although no horses were harmed in the making of this purchase.) The pictogram patterns are normally $18-20 each, depending on size, and Judy was running a show special of five patterns for $60! At that rate, it seemed like leaving money on the table to only buy two. So needless to say, I am now the proud owner of five more of her patterns.
In comparison, I was relatively restrained at the Superior Threads booth, considering I’ve already bought the thread for my upcoming big quilting projects, and I’m no longer using their titanium needles for machine quilting. I was considering buying some more NiteLite glow-in-the-dark thread to quilt my Halloween Buzz Saw quilt, but it doesn’t come in orange the way I thought it did, and I couldn’t settle on an alternate color that would look good. Instead, I bought two cones of Rainbows, their 40-weight variegated trilobal polyester, in Piñata for Halloween Buzz Saw and Neons just for fun. In fact, I used that Neons thread for all my class samples and really had a great time with it. I think that’s a thread I’ll be able to use for some Patsy Thompson-style hyperquilted feathers, as well as for anything I want to show up on a print. I also bought an entire 3,000 yard cone of Bottom Line in Tangerine, since in my studio, orange is a neutral.
At the Friday night banquet, which I attended for the third year, there are always door prizes donated by various sponsors and vendors, some of which are worth close to $100. For the first time, this year I won one! The good news was, I was the lucky winner of a Westalee adjustable strip cutting ruler from Quilter’s Rule. The bad news was, I already had it– along with their half-square and quarter-square triangle cutting rulers. I dearly love that ruler; someday I’ll have to do another Favorite Things post about the quilting gadgets and gizmos that make my quilting life more enjoyable, and that ruler would definitely make the list. But I didn’t need a second one. Fortunately, the very nice people at the Quilter’s Rule booth were willing to let me exchange it towards getting some design templates:
These are 1/8″ acrylic, in contrast to the 1/4″ acrylic used for longarm quilting templates, and therefore are at least half as expensive, but can be used for tracing directly onto fabric or onto Golden Threads paper for quilting designs. Sue Patten used shapes like these as the basis for the Zen-Sue-dle designs in the class I took. I’m excited to play around with them and see what I can come up with. The circles will be useful as different-sized arcs as I make my Spirograph-type designs with Renae Hadaddin’s circle and ray tool on Taupe Winding Ways (someday…)
But definitely the best thing I bought at Quilting with Machines this year was my Fine Line Quilter’s Ruler from Accents in Design. I didn’t actually buy it in the vendor mall, but instead from Beth Schillig during her feathers class.
That’s the sort of thing that frequently happens to me when I take classes: the most valuable thing I learn in any given class is often something only tangentially (if at all) related to the stated focus of the class! Beth was showing us a quilt in progress to display the feathers on it, but we students immediately zeroed in on the beautiful textured border quilted in close parallel lines like beadboard. She demonstrated how she accomplished it with no marking, which is a phrase that’s always music to my ears! I had accepted up to this point that acrylic templates for quilting were a longarm-only option, since you need to guide the machine head along them. However, Accents in Design has developed rulers with handles on the top and gripper strips on the bottom, like super-strength Velcro, so that the template can be used to move the quilt along the foot on a domestic machine. In addition, it has etched lines on the underside so that you can space multiple quilted lines evenly. Beth had brought along extras to sell, and I’ve been greatly enjoying it. In fact:
That’s a preview of my next “Finished!” post, which I could not have accomplished so quickly or sanely without this little gadget. More to come on that soon!
The shared space for the vendors and quilt show at this year’s Quilting with Machines was significantly easier to navigate through, and not just because I’m not seven months pregnant this year (thank God.) Part of the increase in available space was due to the wise move of relocating the demo area to its own adjacent room. What I’m not entirely sure of was whether they actually had more space to work with by opening up an additional section of ballroom, or if there were just simply fewer quilts and vendors and therefore more available space. I heard both opinions voiced, but didn’t get the opportunity to talk to anyone in a position to actually know for certain. The crowds also seemed less dense, but again, whether that was due to fewer attendees, the timing of my visits to the show, or again, just more available room, I do not have the facts to determine.
The Best of Show winner was Fire and Ice by Claudia Pfeil, which is gorgeous and fabulous and has got to have won its weight in ribbons by now. I’ve seen it at several other shows, so I didn’t take a new picture; there are nice ones of it and all the other winners at QwM’s show page here. Most of the pictures I did take were of the kind of quilting I think I can reasonably aspire to; there were lots of great ideas. Recently, as I attend shows I’ve been focusing more on trying to get pictures to serve as examples of how other quilters have solved the kind of design decision problems I’m always wrestling with: the kind that Debby Brown addressed in her class. I tried to get some good detail shots of the quilting, as well as the overall beauty of the quilts.
So bear with me as I try out the slideshow function of WordPress for the first time, and allow me to be your virtual White Glove Angel as you enjoy the pretty!
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.
I’m back from a whirlwind trip to Quilting with Machines in Huron, Ohio, and the quilting center of my brain is just vibrating with new ideas, skills, and motivation. Finishing Ronan’s Minkee Dragons quilt was a real confidence booster going into it, and I’ve got four quilt tops basted and ready to quilt while I’ve got some good momentum going. We’ll see how it all shakes out!
Dan and Ronan came to Ohio with me, and at first that seemed like a mistake. We left Wednesday evening after I got home from work, planning to spend the night in a motel in Hermitage, PA, which would get us most of the way to the resort and leave us just two hours yet to drive in the morning to get me to my 11:00 am Thursday class. Easy, right? As you faithful readers know, I tend not to do so well with the whole “best laid plans” concept, and adding a 10-month-old baby into the mix doesn’t exactly improve my batting average. We left a little later than we’d planned, but still thought we were doing OK until Ronan decided he wasn’t going to sleep. Ever. I got about 3 hours of very intermittent sleep, with Dan doing a little better (he was driving in the morning) but we managed to get me to class with 20 minutes to spare.
Fortunately, it was Sue Patten’s class, and anyone who could sleep through one of her classes probably needs to have a physical. The class was “Zen-Sue-dled in Fabric and Thread,” Sue’s version of the ZenTangles idea. I’ve been a fan of her Three Textures concept for quilting ever since I first heard it in one of her classes two years ago, namely that every quilt needs to contain Puffy, Medium, and Stipple-ish textures of quilting the same way the quilt top needs to contain light, medium, and dark values in order to have depth. In this class, she extends the concept to an idea for designing a wholecloth quilt in a very randomized, artistic, no-rules manner to create a framework for creative play. “Put your favorite part of quilting into this,” is what she told us.
I think I could use a piece like this as an opportunity to try some threads, filler patterns, and techniques without the stress that comes from worrying about “ruining” a pieced top, while still finishing something I could call a quilt rather than just creating yet another doodle cloth. Plus, it’s always worth the price of admission to watch her quilt, and she always makes me laugh. After all, this is the banner she had up in her booth:
Next up was Dawn Cavanaugh’s “Quilting Feathers When You’re a Chicken.” Dawn writes the machine quilting column for Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting magazine, and I had taken her continuous curve class at last year’s QwM. I unfortunately missed the first half-hour of class because my poor sleepless brain somehow thought there was an hour between my 11-1 class and my 1-5 class! Hopefully I didn’t miss anything life-altering, but Dawn graciously welcomed my apologetic breathless disoriented self into class, and I spent the next 3 1/2 hours happily drawing feathers on a whiteboard as she talked us through different feather styles and techniques. I definitely understand Kim Brunner’s “Twirly Whirly Feathers” better now, and I think I know how I’m going to quilt the setting triangles on my Shop Hop sampler quilt.
Thank heaven (and more locally, Dan,) Ronan took a good afternoon nap and then slept well Thursday night, so Friday morning I felt like a human being again and was prepared for class. My morning class was initially a letdown through no one’s fault but my own: I had accidentally registered for the exact same Pam Clarke class, “Fabulous Block to Block Custom Quilting,” that I had taken from her 2 years ago! My heart sank when I flipped through the all-too-familiar handout. But not only was this a great topic for review, but Pam emphasized slightly different aspects of the material, especially as she responded to class questions. Also, since Matt and Alyssa’s wedding quilt and the double pinwheel table runner, two of the only projects I’ve finished in the last year, relied almost exclusively on her concepts and designs, it would have seemed wrong not to take a class from her when attending a seminar where she was teaching, even if it was review.
I had a three-hour break until my next class, and while I did go see the quilt show (future post) and shop at the vendors (future post), my top priority was to go swimming with my family. So I did, and it was great! The Sawmill Creek Resort has this crazy pool:
We had a lovely time swimming before my next class, which loosened up my back and neck before sitting at my machine all afternoon, and completely justified the decision to make this a family vacation. At only ten months since Ronan’s birth, I would not have been ready to go away for four days, nearly 400 miles away, for “just” a hobby trip. I’m already feeling some pangs over my desire to attend the guild retreat in December. But thanks to Dan’s generosity of spirit, we managed to make it work together. He may not be a quilter, but he totally gets it.
And this post got really long, so the second half of classes will be in Part II!
As I’ve posted repeatedly here, I’ve been having a great deal of difficulty over the last year and a half with skipped stitches and poor tension in my free motion machine quilting. I’ve had my machine serviced repeatedly, adjusted tension, changed needles, changed threads, changed feet, and tried every trick in the book, and I was still getting repeated problems with skipped stitches on the top resulting in big loops of shredded thread, and knots of thread on the back of the quilt. These recurring problems had really put me off of quilting my projects, especially as I had limited time to pursue my hobby in the Age of Ronan.
I wish I could tell you about the single wonderful product that changed all this, or the secret button I found on my machine that cured everything, but instead, as with so many of life’s problems, it took several small incremental areas of change rather than one big revelatory one. The closest things I can identify to magic buttons were threefold: receiving Barbara Shapel’s “Art of Machine Quilting” DVD for my birthday, reading the entire Education section of the Superior Threads website, and absorbing every scrap of information I could from Leah Day’s website.
I had never heard of Barbara Shapel before I put her DVD on my Amazon wishlist, but the reviews were positive and it was the only quilting DVD listed on Amazon that I was interested in (and didn’t already own.) Since watching the excellent DVD and seeing her beautiful quilts I’ve started learning more about her; her blog only just went live, but I look forward to future posts. She makes art quilts, many of them double sided, and frequently incorporates painted fabric and heavy threadwork, so her quilting style is very different from my own. However, she quilts in a very organic style with little to no marking, and as she is self-taught, she brings a different perspective to several aspects of free-motion machine quilting. I haven’t adopted all her techniques, of course, but on her recommendation I have switched to a Schmetz Jeans/Denim needle for machine quilting, and have raised my feed dogs and set my stitch length to zero.
When Diane and I attended the Ricky Tims Super Seminar in Richmond, I enjoyed the privilege of getting to hear Bob Purcell from Superior Threads give his Threadology lecture. He did a very entertaining, audience-participation demonstration of how sewing machine tension works. He also stated what I’ve heard many quilting educators reiterate, that sewing machines simply aren’t designed for what we’re doing with them when we free-motion quilt. Even longarm quilting machines are based on the original technology for sewing two pieces of fabric together in a straight line with a dual-duty type thread. So we have to deviate pretty significantly from “factory settings” to accommodate this utterly different method of sewing. However, recently just playing with the tension (top and bobbin!) hasn’t been enough. I was really getting to my wits’ end. I studied everything I could on the Superior Threads website and gained further insight into the problems I was having, such as paying attention to whether the knots of thread on the underside of the quilt were top thread or bobbin thread. I also realized that I was using the HandyNets Thread Socks incorrectly: I was using them for storage, but taking them off when sewing. By leaving them on, I eliminated the occasional problems I was having with thread getting snagged on the base of the cone.
But it still wasn’t enough! Thank goodness, enter Leah Day. I found her website last spring when I did a Google search for “skipped stitches quilting Janome.” As it happens, one of her machines is the same as mine, a Janome Memory Craft 6500, so her advice was particularly applicable to my situation, although it is general enough to suit any domestic machine quilter. From there, I discovered her amazing Free Motion Quilting Project, in which she posted 365 free online videos of filler patterns, an absolute inspiration to anyone who’s struggled to find alternatives to just stippling. In July I was thrilled to see her listed among the winners at the AQS show in Knoxville. Based on her advice, I am using the Supreme Slider on my machine bed, a Little Genie Magic Bobbin Washer in my bobbin case, and have changed how my free motion foot sits on the quilt surface.
With all these individual “tweaks” to my quilting setup, things were improving dramatically. The cherry on top was my realization that my stitches were too short for the thread I was using, so I decreased the speed on my machine so that “flooring it” with my foot pedal resulted in better control. With almost no skipped stitches or thread snarls, I was able to finish this:
I had started a version of this project last fall before Ronan was born, shortly after blogging about it here, but the mottled dye pattern on the Gelato Minkee was too distracting. I bought the solid Minkee in early spring, but the “quick project” I was expecting turned into anything but, when my thread kept snarling. I’d had this project set aside in a big guilt pile in the corner of the studio ever since. It was supposed to be my warmup for quilting Ronan’s quilt, and instead just set me despairing of ever doing quality free-motion machine quilting again. But now the cloud has lifted! I was able to quilt the remaining 7/8 of the pattern in about the same amount of time as it took to quilt the first 1/8 with all the tension problems. Quilting on the Golden Threads paper for this project was rather delightful. I found I didn’t need to use my Machingers because my bare fingers were quite grippy on the paper. The lines were extremely easy to follow, since they were Sharpie lines. Once the quilting was complete, removing the Golden Threads paper was nowhere NEAR as arduous a task as I was expecting it to be. So in short, I would absolutely do this again. If Meadowlyon Designs is a vendor at Quilting with Machines again this year, I look forward to buying at least one more of these “pictogram” designs, if not more.
This was a fairly short-term UFO, but it is nevertheless finished and out of my physical and psychological space. As such, it deserves a happy dance. We’ve been watching a great deal of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix streaming lately, so this clip immediately sprang to mind. It’s not from an episode (too silly!), but was filmed as a birthday surprise for Gene Roddenberry. Thanks to YouTube, we all get to enjoy it:
Where have I been? I’ve been asking myself the same question!
It’s been a busy summer, especially as I’m still getting used to how much having a baby in my life changes things. Ronan is an absolute joy: his sunny personality just blows sugar through my soul every time I look at him. He’s crawling now, babbling nonstop, giggling and dancing and chasing the cats, and I’m cherishing every moment. I can’t lose myself in the studio for hours on end the way I could Before Baby — which is a perfectly acceptable tradeoff — but that’s the way my OCD personality works best for creative endeavors. I’m starting to acclimate to life in this warm messy new country called Motherhood, and am digging in some hand- and toeholds to find my way toward quilting again, albeit in the brief scrambled bursts I can occasionally scrape together. And hopefully, I’ll also figure out how to find time to blog about it as well!
It hasn’t been a total dry spell, though. I finished something!
Diane, Rhonda, Kathy, and Rhonda’s cousin Cathy (that was confusing!) came for a mini-retreat at my house in mid-July. Dan acted as the primary with Ronan so we could all get some concentrated sewing in. Diane had given me a charm pack (Lollipop by Sandy Gervais for Moda) with my birthday present, so I decided to use it for some relatively brainless piecing. For whatever reason, in my life, “easy” doesn’t usually turn out that way.
I planned to make some simple double pinwheel blocks using the Angler tool. Easy piecing, no marking. Well, first, the Angler just wasn’t working for me. I know quilters who swear by it, but I was finding myself more prone to swear at it. My seam allowances looked like my history with Weight Watchers: straight and faithful at the beginning, but veering off the longer I went and, let’s face it, getting wider. Since ripping out and resewing was the absolute antithesis of what I wanted to be doing, the Angler came off the machine bed and I started marking my diagonals on the backs of the squares.
I made 2 identical half-square triangle squares from 2 contrasting charm squares, then sewed each of them along both sides of the diagonal to another charm square to make 4 pinwheel units. So far, so good. But those 4 units, put back together, didn’t make a pinwheel! Oops…
As someone who works in a mirror all day, I’m ashamed I didn’t see that one coming. (It works if you cut the charm squares into quarter- and half-square triangle squares and then sew them all together, but not if you use the “quick” no-triangle method..at least not the way I did it.) If I’d been working from fat quarters, I would have simply cut more squares and continued to make my blocks containing only 4 fabrics each. But since I just had the charm pack, with only one square of each fabric, I had to either abandon the project entirely, or find a way to make it work. And let’s face it, one of the central tenets of Sarah Loves Fabric is that more fabric is better! So I ended up with five sets of identical-but-mirror-image blocks containing EIGHT different fabrics each, for a total of ten blocks with only two charm squares left over from the original pack of 42.
As it turned out, I’m glad my original plan fell through, and I’m glad I felt obligated to work with what I had rather than just cutting (or worse, buying!) more fabric. I think the blocks are more interesting with eight fabrics than they would have been with four, but I don’t believe I would have been brave enough to plan them that way. As I mentioned before, when it comes to fabric I definitely believe more is more; I get bored making a two- or three-fabric quilt, or one where all the blocks contain the exact same fabric combination. But until now, I hadn’t taken the plunge into making blocks that each contained quite this many different fabrics. I have to consider this a very successful experiment, and one that I intend to repeat — just so long as I don’t manage to manipulate it into an excuse to buy more charm packs!
I quilted the table runner using minimal-mark designs from Pam Clarke’s “Quilting Inside the Lines” with Lagoon Brytes by Superior Threads. These blocks turned out fairly lumpy in the centers, even after twirling the seam allowances when pressing, so I wanted to choose a design that allowed me to avoid those areas unobtrusively. Also, as I’ll be taking a class from Pam at Quilting with Machines in October, it seemed like a good mental warmup. I used a piece of Pellon Legacy wool batting (yum) left over from another project, and managed to find backing and binding fabrics from my stash that coordinated with the charm pack, rather than giving in and buying more of the Moda fabrics. I am appropriately proud of myself. I even hand-sewed the binding, and finished it in time for show and tell at Guild last week! It’s like I’ve turned over a new leaf.
For the happy dance for this one, how about two late greats of American comedy, Dom DeLuise and Gilda Radner, in the one bright spot in an otherwise dreadful movie:
This will be a much shorter post than the recent monster about classes, although I wish that were because I hadn’t bought much. While I still managed to get away without buying any fabric, the unique nature of this show meant that I had the opportunity to purchase things I don’t usually get exposed to. I actually hadn’t expected to buy too much, as the vendors were very much skewed to the longarm demographic: several booths selling actual longarm machines, several more specializing in pantographs, quilting templates, and software for computer-guided machines. I expected to buy some thread from Superior Threads, of course, but not much more than that. HOWEVER:
Stencils. I’ve mentioned before my weakness for quilting stencils, and there was a good selection from companies I don’t normally encounter at traditional quilt shows, such as Patsy Thompson; StenSource, who makes DeLoa Jones‘ stencils; and a company I’d never heard of before, The Calico Kitten, that had some really interesting designs by Linda Mae Diny.
Pantographs. As a domestic sewing machine quilter, I had written these off as a longarm-only (or at least frame-quilter-only) item. But hanging in the show was a simple Minkee crib quilt that had been quilted in an all-over design using a slightly darker thread:
I loved it. What a simple baby gift! Here was a charming, cuddly quilt that could be dragged around, soiled in every way imaginable, and repeatedly put through the wash with no worries or second thoughts. Then I went to Cheryl Barnes‘ class, and as she is the founder of Golden Threads, she couldn’t exactly not talk about uses for their flagship product. I personally have had a love/hate relationship with Golden Threads paper; I love that it allows a design to show up on any fabric without marking, and I hate hate HATE removing it! But Cheryl gave some intriguing tips for accomplishing that step with less pain (use a pencil eraser, a shop vac, a lint roller, or one of those Scotch Fur Fighter things) that makes me willing to approach it with less dread and loathing. It occurred to me that the Golden Threads paper would allow me to overlay a traced pantograph design onto an impossible-to-mark fabric like Minkee so I could then follow the lines with my machine, accomplishing the same result with just the additional step of transferring the design to the paper.
With this idea already lodged in my brain, I then happened upon the booth for MeadowLyon Designs, who make not only pantographs, but a line they call Pictograms, which are non-repeating 11-inch x 12-foot designs. That means you can make a 36″ x 44″ quilt by stacking four 3-foot x 11-inch sections of the design and never having it repeat. As soon as I saw their Dragons Galore design, I was sold! I’ve bought a piece of green variegated Minkee since then, and will hopefully have more news on that project soon. I also visited a neighboring booth, Munnich Design, and bought a simpler (and cheaper!) pantograph design of ladybugs to be able to use on baby gifts for less nerdy, I mean, dragon-focused, families than ours.
Sue Patten’s new book. “Adaptable Quilting Designs,” which she signed at the Golden Threads booth, contains a lot of the designs she showed in her “Stunning Sashings” class, but with variations. Not only do I want to support Sue as a professional quilter by buying her book, but the book itself is a beautiful thing and has very clear directions on how to stitch the designs.
Renae’s Amazing Rays. My biggest purchase, both monetarily and physically, was from Renae Haddadin. I had taken her “Amazing Ways to Use Circles and Rays” class last year, and while I was fascinated by the process, the tools were very expensive: $60 for the mini-ray ruler, $30 for the instructional DVD, $50/set for the arc rulers. Much as I wanted to try the techniques, I didn’t want to make that kind of investment. So I took a year and thought about it. I’d had a good idea for the quilting design on “Taupe Winding Ways,” to use Renae’s style of spirograph-type designs to highlight some of the circles in the overall quilt top. Even though I haven’t finished the quilt top, I decided to buy the mini-ray ruler so that I’ll have it when I need it without having to mail-order it. It’s a very unwieldy piece of equipment; it was even awkward to carry it around for an hour or two until I could take it back to the room, and I had to be very careful with packing it into the car to avoid breaking it. But it is a very well-designed ruler, and I look forward to playing with it. I also bought the DVD, so I’d have the full complement of instructions as well, rather than having to rely solely on my class notes from last year. I was able to forgo the arc rulers, though, because I don’t need the heavy 1/4″ thick acrylic arcs that longarm quilters use to guide the hopping foot; I just need an arc I can trace onto fabric or Golden Threads paper. Quilter’s Rule sells a set of nested circle templates that are available in 1/8″ thickness for half the price of the 1/4″ set, but I’m going to try to use some of the circle rotary cutting templates I already have, such as the Circle A Round cutting ruler, before making additional purchases.
Threads. Of course, I did buy some thread from Superior. In addition to the prewound bobbins that saved the day for me in Patsy Thompson’s class, I also bought a cone of Highlights, a cone of Metallics, a spool of NiteLite, and the cone of New Brytes that I’ve been looking for for months, to use when I quilt “Taupe Winding Ways.” They haven’t been bringing the New Brytes cones to the shows lately, and I hadn’t wanted to pay for shipping. But Bob Purcell offered to have it shipped to the show booth with the rest of the restock order when I asked him about it at the Wednesday night preview, and it was at the booth by Friday morning with a little personalized note for me from the warehouse included in the bag! Once again, the quality of their products is exceeded only by their customer service.
Next post: the quilts!