All progress is good progress!

I tell you, it feels good to finally be crossing off projects that have been sitting on my “to do” list for ages – sometimes months, sometimes years! Why did I procrastinate so long? At least I’m getting through them now.

Over the weekend, I quilted my “Values” quilt – it was a from a workshop I did a couple of years ago with Cheryl Arkison, to learn how to use value placement more effectively in quilts. Top has been finished for so long… now, finally almost done.

Here’s the front of the quilt. It’s made of half-square triangles arranged in concentric squares. I thought that radiating lines from the centre square would emphasize the movement of the design (since I’m trying to find ways to make the quilting complement the design, not just hold the layers together). Using my walking foot and some green painter’s tape to mark guidelines, I quilted many times across the quilt, trying my best to keep intersecting at the centre square.

Overall, it worked pretty well. But there were some drawbacks. First, I realized as I worked that the centre point was becoming pretty thick with threads. I tried to capture it in this closeup. Can you see? The outer edges of the quilt are soft and draping, because there is distance between the quilted lines, but as you get toward the centre, the quilting becomes denser, until you end up with a mass — almost a bump — of threads at the centre point. Another time, I might try to come up with a different solution. Perhaps, have fewer lines go right to the very centre of the design, and then use some deep inverted “v” lines to create the impression of additional spokes (if you get what I mean).

Another issue that is related to this one: where the fabric became densely quilted, it started to “puff”. Can you see it? I’m going to see if I can use my iron on the steam setting to press that sucker a little flatter. But it’s a problem I didn’t foresee at the beginning. Ah well, this is all about learning, after all.

And here’s the back. The trick was, I made two additional rows of blocks for the back that mirrored the corresponding rows on the front of the quilt — then I had to figure out how to get them to line up perfectly! I used basting spray on the quilt back and ironed it onto the batting, nice and flat. Then, with DH and Mouse holding the back/batting up to a window so I could see through, I carefully worked at lining up the quilt front with the pieced strip; the front was also spray-basted, so it stuck where I put it, but was repositionable. When I had them lined up, I ironed the quilt front to the batting, then basted around the whole perimeter using my machine set to a basting stitch.

On the whole, it worked pretty well. However, another time, I would baste the perimeter by hand, using even longer stitches, so that the layers and edges are secured where I want them, but the thread could be more easily clipped and removed if necessary during quilting. Even set to the longest stitch, my machine’s stitches were still pretty close together, and that made it awkward whenever I quilted toward an edge that need to be released.

Anyway! There you go. Another big step conquered; all that’s left is making and attaching the binding and sleeve, and the Values quilt will be done. I could have completed that today… but instead I worked on something else.

I was looking through my task list this morning, and noticed something that had been sitting there for while — something that kept getting scheduled, but then not done, so pushed forward again. Yes, it was finishing the last four pairs of Christmas pajamas. I made so many pairs back in December that I felt burned out on pajama-making, so the last four pairs had sat, partially cut out, since then. I decided to bite the bullet today and finish them off entirely: much though I still disliked the idea of working on them, I disliked even more that feeling I got every day when I saw them still sitting on my task list. So I brewed some hot jasmine tea and made myself sit down and sew a pair for Q, a pair for DH, and (amazingly enough) two pair for me that were made from the leftovers of Q’s and DH’s pairs. Since I had them each listed separately on the task list, that meant I could cross off 4 items today! Whew!

I have a few more things I’d like to get done in the sewing room this month, but happily I still have several days ahead of me to sew. I shall just keep chiselling away at my self-assigned daily tasks, and I will be able to look back on March as a productive month!



Candy Stix is finished!

Glad to have finally finished this one, about a year after I’d started it!

I put off the quilting of the piece forever, because I wasn’t sure what to do about the back of the quilt, and I didn’t know what sort of quilting would suit the design.

I finally decided to make the back of the quilt look like an oversized version of the blocks on the front – my husband’s idea, actually. I used some bright, cheerful Amy Butler prints, that I hoped would capture the whimsy of the scrappy piecing on the front. That solved the first problem. But how to quilt it?

I have been trying to thinking about having the quilting reflect the design of the quilt, to complement it, not just be a generic meander that holds it together.

I finally decided to do an off-kilter spiralling square, the middle of which is stitched to look like one of the blocks on the quilt front. I used a colourful variegated thread to try to pick up the bright colours in the scrappy candy-coloured bars… but I found that the colour really didn’t show much. Especially not on the front. I also discoverd that the spiralling square was tricky, particularly when I wanted to turn the corners. So the execution is imperfect.

But it was a good learning experience, and I had fun with it. And – I’m glad to be finished another UFO!

My first Longarmed quilt!

back on the longarm.jpgWell, I did it! There were a few bumps and uncertainties, but I got through quilting my first quilt on a longarm. Pretty happy with how it turned out, too.

I rented time on my friend Grier’s machine – she has a home business. Here is the backing, loaded on to the machine and waiting for the next stage. This machine uses a zipper to attach the backing to the roller, which makes it pretty easy to line up the centres – or even be able to take the quilt out part way through quilting, then be able to zip it back in again. My backing fabric was a red flannel.

adding top and batting.jpg

Next, Grier helped me load the quilt top and batting. She suggested just letting it “float” rather than putting it on the other set of rollers. That seemed to work alright. I don’t have the experience to say whether loading it on the roller would have been better. I guess it would keep the quilt top taut – but what I did was just channel lock along the sides as we advanced the quilt in the frame, and that seemed to do the trick. Mostly. There was a little pucker on one edge – I don’t know if that was because my quilt wasn’t square enough, or because it wasn’t taut enough (?). But it wasn’t serious, and disappeared when I picked out the channel locked stitches afterward. So here’s the top, waiting for me to get started.

Finishing up.jpgI really want to use the longarm for freehand work. In my opinion, if I am just going to use a pantograph, it’s just as easy to pay someone to do that for me. The point of longarm, for me, would be able to do more interesting and customized work on my quilts.

the support team.jpg

For this first piece, my goal was simply to get comfortable working on the long arm. I decided to do an easy pattern of loops, worked across the quilt from side to side. Here’s the bottom of the quilt. I think the quilting is most noticeable on the black border, so I wanted to capture that.

Also, I tried a 50/50 bamboo/cotton batting that Grier had available. It worked well. Again, it was my first quilt, so hard to say if I liked quilted with it better than I would have if I’d used Hobbs 80/20.

Did I mention that Grier has two dogs? Trooper and Rosie kept me company while I quilted. Since I have two dogs myself, I felt right at home with them at my feet!

at home.jpgAnd here’s my quilt back at home, waiting for the binding.

I started this quilt about 6 years ago, but procrastinated about it for so long! Feels great to finally be able to cross it off the UFO list, and to even have longarmed it myself.

There are still almost three weeks left in 2016, and I feel confident that I can cross off a few more things on my UFO list before the end of the year. That will leave me in a really great position for 2017, and I already have some resolutions about what I hope to complete next year. So watch for my post about my 2017 quilting goal list!

Trying out long-arm quilting

Don’t you think the idea of owning a long-arm machine is appealing? I often have! I might have purchased one long ago — except that (1) it would be very expensive and (2) you need a big space for one. I haven’t been able to justify the space or the money as yet. Still, I wanted to give long-arming a try. Would it really be easier than trying to quilt on my domestic machine??

loading fabric into the LAQ machineAs it turns out, a woman in my guild named Grier Rennie offers long-arm lessons in her home — with the idea that, afterward, you can rent time on her machine to do your own quilting. I had to try it. I signed up the Mouse and myself for an class. So — here we go! The first thing we had to do was learn how to load a quilt into the frame.

Channel locking the LAQ machineThe backing was easy, as Grier’s machine has zippers for loading the backing fabric. You baste zippers onto either end of your backing, and zip it into the frame! Easy-peasy! Loading the quilt top (or in our case, a sample piece of fabric) and the batting was a little trickier. Got it done, finally. Then, we secured the quilt by channel-locking (basting) along the top and the sides of the quilt.

LAQ MouseThen the fun part started! Mouse really enjoyed the first task — freemotion quilting on the long arm. I liked it, too! It’s still a bit of a struggle to get my hands to move the needle to match the picture in my brain — but so much easier with a stitch regulator! The machine speeds up and slows down to match my movements. Love it. Mouse got going, and didn’t want to stop!

maze LAQ patternHere’s a sample of the Pacman Maze pattern we tried freehand. I’m not sure if this section is from my side or Mouse’s. It was fun to do, and came out reasonably well, all things considered. Obviously, we would improve with practice. But I think it turned out pretty decently. I would definitely considered doing this pattern on a whole quilt top!

pantograph patternNext, we tried doing a Pantograph. I believe the one we chose was called Fantasy Flame. Here’s a sample of our work. Trying to trace the pantograph pattern was very difficult. At first I struggled to keep the laser light on the pantograph line and felt bad when I went off course. Then I decided to relax into it — to see the pantograph line as a guide, but not a “must follow” line. If I went off course, I just looped or curved a little wider, then tried to come back to the pantograph line more smoothly, instead of jerking it back to follow the pattern. That worked better. As Grier pointed out, who’s ever going to know if you followed the pattern exactly? And again, following the line would get easier with practice. So pantographing was okay, but not as fun as FMQ.

template LAQ patternFinally, we tried something else, called Circle Lord. It’s a grooved template you set on the machine, and instead of laser light, you drop a little stylus down into the groove, then just trace the groove to get your pattern. Easier than the pantograph in some ways, though you can jump the track if you “drive” too fast. But also a bit… well, the Mouse would simply say it was boring. You don’t have to use your brain much at all. But I can see how it would work for an inexperienced person who wanted a near-perfect result.

LAQ Mouse 2We were tired by the end! But it was a day well spent. Now I know the basics, I’m definitely inspired to go back to Grier’s with some of my quilt tops! For a large bed quilt, it would definitely be easier to manage the quilting in the long arm machine than my domestic.

Would I buy a long-arm machine myself? Well… I have to say, I would be more likely to consider it now that I’ve tried it. Still, I can now rent time on Grier’s machine for a very reasonable price that would never add up to anything like the cost of buying my own machine. Plus I have four kids to put through college. So I think I’ll leave buying a long-arm machine in the “If I happen to win the lottery” category for now!



Learning about my walking foot

If you use a walking foot already, you may be surprised to learn that I never tried walking foot quilting until a couple of days ago. Now, I’m kicking myself, because it’s amazingly easy! But for a long time, I felt very intimidated by the idea of a walking foot.

Turns out, it’s just as easy as pie. I signed up for a Jacquie Gering class on Craftsy called “Creative Quilting with your Walking Foot”, and discovered that walking foot quilting is simply a matter of putting on the foot. There is almost nothing more to it than that. You have to make certain your quilt sandwich is well basted, like any other type of quilting, so you don’t get puckers. You have to take it easy with the speed — don’t race. Keep the weight of the quilt up, so it doesn’t drag on the needle. But otherwise, you just sew!

First walking foot sample - frontMoreover, you don’t have to simply straight stitch. If you have a machine with stylin’ stitches, you can pick one of those. Again, make sure you’re going slowly, so you don’t put too much strain on the needle. Here’s a pic of the first thing I quilted using my walking foot. It’s just a little sample made from cut-offs from another quilt. I didn’t want to quilt it with a straight line, because that would emphasize the fact that the pieces aren’t all the same size: so I followed Jacquie Gering’s advice, and selected an S stitch from my specialty stitch list. Unlike Jacquie’s Bernina, my Janome wouldn’t let me stretch the pattern too much, so my S’s look pretty zig-zaggy. Here’s a picture from the back:

First walking foot sample - back

I want to tell you about the fabric I used on the back. It’s from a dog scarf. I had my dog groomed one time at the local doggy daycare, and he came home with a “scarf” — a large, bright triangle of cotton tied around his neck. It was kind of cute fabric, I thought, so I washed it and put in my stash! Anyway, that’s why you see the little triangle pieced in the top right corner: the bottom left corner was the point of the scarf, and I had to add a bit to the top to make it rectangle-shaped. 🙂 Anyway, that’s my first little walking foot sample, and I thought it would make a good Christmas mat for a table somewhere.

First walking foot quilt - baby quiltOnce I realized how incredibly easy it was to walking-foot quilt, I was anxious to quilt something from my growing pile of finished tops. I decided to start with a scrappy baby quilt I made earlier this year. I used the same S stitch as above, but used the guide bar on my machine to space the rows 1″ apart. I also followed Jacquie’s advise to try mixing it up by quilting on the diagonal. So that’s what you see above — start in the middle, quilt row by row out to one side, then return to the middle and quilt out to the other side, and done!

Next up will be, I think, some straight line quilting. I have a few more quilt tops I’d like to get finished!

Now, don’t think that this discovery of walking-foot quilting means that I’m giving up on free-motion quilting! I’m not. But I know my FMQ needs more practice before I want to tackle a “good” quilt, and I have a few good quilts that want quilting. Moreover, I can easily imagine doing a combination of WFQ and FMQ — they both offer great and creative ways to approach quilting.

Next problem to tackle — finding a place in my house to baste a large quilt that isn’t covered with dog hair!

Machine quilting experiments

I took a machine quilting class recently, and let me tell you, it’s not quite as easy as it looks!

I have been struggling ever since to get some good stitching out of my domestic machine at home. I think my timing isn’t right. But at least I’ve finally figure out how to get my presser foot in the right position — on my Pfaff, there’s an “in-between” spot you have to find, that allows the foot to be down, but not all the way down. This gives you the ability to sew without having the foot drag on the fabric.

After watching me play with it for a while, Mouse decided that she had to have a go. Here she is trying to quilt on one of her own panels of kitty-cat fabric. She was an instant addict, singing out, “This is so fun, Mommy! I love machine quilting!”