Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dr. Quiltlove: Or How I'm Learning to Stop Worrying and Love Free Motion Quilting: Day 3

Welcome to my Dr. Quiltlove series, where I'm rambling waxing poetic on how you might overcome some fear and machine quilt some of those tops you have sitting around your house. In case you've missed the past couple of days, here's a quick recap:
Day 1: 10 minutes
Day 2: Getting to know you

Kim left a great comment last week about free motion quilting - that free motion quilting is a matter of practice (see tip #1), but you have to be brave enough to start. Y'all that is the heart truth of it.

1974 quilt! 

Practice is great and all, but if you don't have anything you're willing to practice on, there's little motivation to get started. Maybe you're afraid to "mess up" that quilt top that took so long to finish with your newbie-style machine quilting. I totally felt that way about the pinwheel quilt pictured above.

In the beginning, I don't know that I necessarily had this problem. I didn't even know about Google Reader, so I wasn't really following any blogs, I hadn't joined any of the local guilds, and everyone in my family who quilted actually quilted their own quilts. I knew that there were people out there who were a lot better than I at machine quilting, but I just didn't realize how many of them there were. I also had no idea that I even had the option to send my quilts out to be quilted. Had I known, maybe things would have ended differently. But alas, ignorance forced me to practice my machine quilting. I just started quilting my tops with the only design Mom initially taught me - stippling. My first EIGHT quilts - all stippled in one form or another.

Nine-Patch Nirvana in Sonnet fabric 

I was pretty smug about this 9-patch nirvana sampler quilt (pictured above) at the time because I stippled in the blocks AND stitched in the ditch around the blocks and their sashing AND did a straight line of echo stitching around the inner orange border. (Watch out Houston Quilt Show, here I come! {sarcasm})

If you're reading this blog, you're probably not living in the same hole in the same boat I was 5-6 years ago. So here are a few ideas:

1. As unsexy as it sounds, make a muslin sandwich. Muslin is cheap, so you're not investing a lot of money in it upfront.

Disappearing Nine-Patch 

2. Maybe you have tops that you don't care about as much as you did when you made them. You know how it goes, right? You make a top, thinking this will be the crowning glory of your house, then you get distracted by a new fabric collection that comes out, and then there's the baby quilt you have to make, and next thing you know, it's 5 years later, and you're in a new house, and the quilt top no longer matches any of your decor. Tops like that - they're PERFECT for practicing free motion quilting. Since you're actually working with a top that has seams and shapes, you get a feel for what it's like to quilt through multiple layers of fabric on the seams, and you can see how curvy stippling softens the sharp angles of a quilt block, etc. Here's one of those tops I'm saving for practicing free motion feathers. I made it to go at the foot of my bed when the Disappearing 9 Patches were HUGE a few years ago. Now I'm thinking about repainting the bedroom a different color (surprise, Husbatron!), and this quilt might or might not have a starring role. Sounds like a perfect top to practice free motion feathers, don't you think?

Gunther breaking it in

3. Other options include making a quilt for your dog, or use the uglies in your stash (c'mon, I know you have them) for someone else's dog by donating it to the pet shelter. My dog loves a good quilt (exhibit A above). He would probably die of unadulterated bliss if I made a quilt specifically for him to wallow on.


4. Another idea is to try quilting small projects - mini-quilts, table runners, doll quilts, etc. When I did the Year of Schnibbles project a few years ago, I tried a variety of new (to me) patterns. I learned what designs quilted up super-quickly (loopy stippling) and what took a lot more time (micro-stippling backgrounds).

So tip #3: Pick or make something - ANYTHING - and quilt it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dr. Quiltlove: Or How I'm Learning to Stop Worrying and Love Free Motion Quilting: Day 2

I'm taking a quick break from my usual programming for a mini-series on working up the gumption to free motion quilt. Check out Day 1 if you missed it!

close-up of machine quilting

Another thing I've discovered is that my machine can be quirky sometimes. Don't get me wrong. I love my machine. It is a workhorse, and for the most part, as long as I'm kind to it, it's kind to me. (Photo above was taken during a particularly happy time in our quilter-sewing machine relationship.) But I do have to keep special circumstances in mind sometimes. For example, I know that if I'm using less than premium thread, I need to take my time when I quilt curves as I head towards the upper left, or else my thread will break. All other directions pose no problem. You know how I figured out this quirk?

{this} close to being done 

One night last winter, when I was pebble quilting like mad (on the quilt above), my thread broke Every Blasted Time I quilted a curve towards the upper left. After a few minutes of frustrating trial and error, I discovered that I could solve this persistent problem in 1 of 2 ways:

1) I could swap out my thread for more expensive thread, but I'm cheap, and I'd rather have nice fabric than super-fancy thread.
2) I could stick with the mid-grade thread and slow the heck down as I quilt curves towards the upper left.

Moral of the story: There will be trying times as you practice your machine quilting, but it's all part of the process. Notice that I just ran into this problem late last year. I've been quilting on this machine for at least 5 years now. Sometimes, it takes awhile for these quirks to come out.

Other things I've learned the hard way about my machine over the years:
  • Despite the fact that it's labeled as "machine quilting thread" at JoAnn's, my machine does NOT like Coats and Clark thread for quilting, no matter what.
  • It needs to be oiled and given a new needle every 6 bobbins or so.
  • Despite what I've read elsewhere, I actually *do* need to cover the feed dogs on my machine when I FMQ, or else it sounds like someone's firing a tommy gun in my sewing room.
You know how I discovered all this? I practiced (see tip #1).

Sewing Machine HK

So tip #2: It can be tedious, but it's important to get to know and make nice with your machine. You'll fight with it sometimes, but it's okay. It's all part of building a relationship. Also, like relationships, all machines are different. What holds true for my machine might or might not work for yours. So you can read and study other quilters' troubleshooting advice until the cows come home, but at the end of the day, whether you're quilting on the latest, greatest top of the line machine or a Hello Kitty piece of equipment, you need to get to know *your* machine.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dr. Quiltlove: Or How I'm Learning to Stop Worrying and Love Free Motion Quilting: Day 1

So after my last post, I'm realizing that there's some serious machine quilting angst out there in blogland. I'm not calling anyone out - it's not just folks who read/comment here. Once I picked up on it, I started seeing it in a lot of the blogs that I read. Folks are scared to quilt their tops on their own machines. I'm here to tell you that it's okay to have angst. I get it. I wish I could tell you that I've arrived in some permanent state of free motion zen. But that's not true. I have (and still do) put off machine quilting some of my quilts for various reasons.


Exhibit A - My Bliss top was a beast. I knew that going into it - it was bigger than any other top I had put through my machine, so it scared me. It sat there in the corner of my sewing room for over a YEAR, all basted and ready to go, just taunting me, while I studiously avoided it and worked on a few dozen other projects.

granny squares quilt top in etchings 

Exhibit B - I had big plans on how I would quilt feathers on my Etchings top, but it was a design I've never quilted before, and I wasn't really sure how it would pan out. So I let it linger in my pile of stuff to be quilted for a few months.

Verna Nine Patch 

Exhibit C - Then there's the pile of tops (including this one) I've yet to start quilting because I just don't know how to quilt them.

So over the next few days, I'm going to be sharing my ramblings tips on pushing through when machine quilting is scary. I thought I could squeeze all this into one blog post, but once I started writing the post, I realized I have a lot to say, so I'm breaking it up into smaller posts. And I'll reiterate - please don't think that I've arrived and am an engine of free motion productivity. I'm preaching to myself more than anyone else this week.
Here goes...

I played piano all through school and my undergrad degree, along with flute through high school. I'm a big believer in the power of practice. Even on the days I wasn't "feeling it," I still showed up to practice, and after a few minutes, I would get into it and practice for at least an hour or more.

Kitchen Timer 

Machine quilting can sometimes be the same way. There are some nights when I'd much rather sit on the couch with my laptop, but I tell myself to just go upstairs and quilt for 10 minutes. I keep a kitchen timer in my sewing room for nights like this. I set the timer for 10 minutes, and if I'm not feeling it after 10 minutes, I have permission to do something else sans guilt. But usually by that point, I'm engaged enough to keep going.

It kind of reminds me of the Friends episode where Chandler flips out about getting married, so Ross convinced him to just take the wedding day one step at a time - first he just had to take a shower - no commitment there, right? Even if he didn't go through with the wedding, he was still gonna have to take a shower. Then next, all he had to do was dry off and get dressed, etc. It's described here, but the video doesn't seem to be (legally) available anywhere.

Getting started with machine quilting is similar. I don't try to psych myself up to quilt a whole quilt in one night, even though I know there are people out there who do that. It's just too daunting for me. Maybe it's just me, and I'm easily overwhelmed. Instead, I psych myself up to go quilt for 10 minutes. That's all. Baby steps = low-commitment. Some people would call this lowering expectations, I call it setting yourself up for success.

So in summary, tip #1: Just commit to practicing your machine quilting for 10 minutes. Seriously, right now. Go quilt for just 10 minutes. You'll feel better.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

New Machine Quilting

Before I left for my folks' house a few weeks ago, I ordered a couple of books online - Angela Walters' new Free Motion Quilting book, being one of them.

It's fabulous.

If you're looking to drop some dollabills on a quilting-related book, I recommend this one.
New fave book

I'll go ahead and say for the record that I've pretty much staked my entire free motion quilting portfolio on a half-dozen or so designs:

basic stippling

loop de loop stippling
fave block #2

square stippling


ready for the close-up

and straight lines. Do straight lines even count?

Everything else you've seen in my work was probably a pattern I traced onto the quilt.

So I bought this book, looking to beef up my free motion repertoire. I was thrilled that she included her concentric circles pattern in the book, because it's one of my favorites that I've never been able to figure out just by looking at an image of it.

Examples of this pattern at work here, here, and here.

Luckily, Angela gives directions for how to stitch each pattern, line by line, just like the old handwriting charts of yore. Do kids still use those charts? Or is it all touch-typing these days?

Anyways, at her advice, I filled up pages and pages of my Notebook Of Life with this one design, practicing through many episodes of The Daily Show until I finally worked up the gumption to try it on an actual quilt.

fmq practice

I figured that my Joy HST string quilt would be a perfect candidate for this particular design. You see all those stringy seams? They really needed to be stabilized, and this allover design fit the bill perfectly.

#fmq party on the front

My lines aren't perfectly smooth and curvy - there are a few angles and corners where I stopped and started to go check on dinner or change out a bobbin or thought I would smoothly shift my fabric with one hand while I continued quilting with the other (#nosuchluck). But I'm hoping those little inconsistencies won't be so noticeable once it's all quilted.
#fmq stitches

Overall, I'm in love with this pattern. I can't wait to see how the entire quilt turns out.

#Fmq from the back

I definitely recommend this book - it has clear directions for each desk, solid tips on trying out other new designs,  and it definitely boosted my confidence/gave me the kick in the pants I needed to try a new design for realz on one of my quilts!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Shifting Priorities

I came up with this crazy plan/schedule last month to finish all of my WiPs this year. I know, right? It's crazy talk.
To do clutter
In case you're interested, I'm already kind of behind schedule. I've put in a pretty good effort, though. It all started back in early July, when I got sick of seeing all those unquilted tops and their pieced backings stacked up in the corner of my sewing room. So I basted them and quilted them.

From to be quilted -- to be bound 

Now I have a stack of quilts that need to be bound. I didn't start out the year planning to finish all my WiPs, but machine quilting all those tops last month gave me an appetite for more closure.

The plan wasn't really all that ridiculous, considering that most of my WiPs are already quilt tops - they just need to be backed, basted, quilted, and bound. What I didn't account for in my plan was the jelly roll project I'd be starting each month that would add another project to the WiP list.

I also failed to account for the distraction factor. It seems like every week, I see something out in blogland that convinces me that I have to finish this project, no this project, or how about this project next. My current priorities for the month:

1) Finish machine quilting my string quilt, because the machine quilting pattern I'm using is fabulous thus far, and I'm excited to see what kind of quilting texture comes out of it.

2) Finish my Central Park Hexagon quilt so that I can participate in the Festival of Hexagons at the end of the month. This is where I start cringing and getting a little bit nervous. I still have a good bit of work to do on this project.
Central park hexagons

3) Back, baste, and at least quilt my Ruby quilt, so I'm not adding anything to the WiP list this month.
ruby shortcake quilt top

In less ambitious news, here's what we're eating this week. (Check out OrgJunkie for more meal ideas.) Notice the abundance of beans in our diet this week - it's the end of our home budget cycle, so the grocery bucket is getting perilously low.

I'm linking up to Lee's WiP Wednesday post. Be sure to check out what everyone else is working on this week!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Current Events

Oops, I disappeared again.

This time, I went down to Louisiana to spend some time with my family and also to see this face.

this face was happy to see me

I broke up the 16-hour drive into 2 days both going and coming, staying with friends in Birmingham on the way down and Atlanta on the way back. I brought hostess gifts, like these dish towels.

tea towels for a hostess gift

I used this Fig Tree tutorial to embellish some fun blue tea towels from World Market with leftover strips from a jelly roll project.

...Leftover strips from this particular jelly roll project actually.
ruby shortcake quilt top
That's right. I've already finished my jelly roll quilt top for August. I used a Ruby jelly roll and the Shortcake pattern from Cluck Cluck Sew. Maybe I'll actually quilt it by the end of the month.

fmq feather practice

To help with said machine quilting, I've been perusing Angela Walters' new book and practicing designs. I'm working up the gumption to quilt all these concentric swirls on the Joy strip top I finished last month. It's all basted and ready to go now.
fmq practice

Oh, and I finally took some time over my vacation to figure out instagram, if you can't tell from the fuzzy photos. If you're on there, look me up, yo! @crookedseams I'm still trying to decide if I like it.

Finally, the winner of the July jelly roll challenge is...
#6 - Pattilou!!! Check your email! I've sent a message requesting your address. Also, everyone else should take a look at Pattilou's projects - those teeny tiny Birds in Flight blocks are adorable.

Be sure to check out the quilts from the July party, if you're looking for some inspiration - folks worked on some pretty great projects last month.