Thursday, June 26, 2014

Extras for "Columbine"

I tried some new (to me) techniques on my Columbine quilt.  The first of these was machine trapunto.  Trapunto means "stuffed" and it used to be done by stuffing wee bits of fluff between the fibers of the fabric into a defined area.  I did mine the modern way by pinning pieces of wool batting behind the petals of the flowers (no backing) and temporarily quilting around the petals with water soluble thread.  You must use the water soluble thread in the top spool, but can use soluble or regular thread in the bobbin.  I prefer soluble in both top and bottom.  I left the leaves flat because I wanted them to stay in the background.

TIP:  Do not iron water soluble thread.  It melts, solidifies and breaks apart in teenie, stiff pieces that all have to be picked out because they are visible.  Ask me how I know!

When all the petals are quilted, turn the quilt over and very carefully cut away the excess batting close to the stitching around the petals.  I use sharp embroidery scissors.  You can use sharp, blunt-tip scissors, but I find I can't get into tight corners with them.  Relax and work slowly to avoid cutting the quilt top.

TIP:  You have been so careful, but you accidentally cut your quilt top.  Grrrr!  I have done it, but it can be repaired if it is not too bad.  You can place some fusible web or Bo Nash Bonding Powder over the back side of the slit, cover it with a small piece of fabric to match the cut place, and fuse it closed.  Steer clear of the soluble thread with the iron or unstitch a few of those soluble stitches if necessary.  Then mark the area with a safety pin so that when you do the background quilting you can find the spot in order to quilt over it enough to hide the goof and stitch it down securely.

My next venture into the unknown was to paint the blue areas at the center of the white petals.  I don't remember what kind of paint I used, but it didn't do a thing for my columbine.  It didn't hurt them either, thank goodness.  Then I decided to try thread painting based on a meager bit of knowledge I had picked up from a U-tube tutorial.  That worked and I was so pleased with the results that I did the yellow centers with thread as well, right over the trapunto batting.  The unexpected result was that it flattened the centers of the flowers and made the bulk of the petals really poof out.  Awesome dimension!  The photo doesn't show the depth very well so you will have to use a little imagination.

Detail of trapunto, thread painting, quilting and binding.
TIP:  Some quilters like to starch their fabric before quilting, but don't bother if you have used water soluble thread.  Guess what:  it dissolves in starch too!  Those soluble stitches are your guidelines for the final quilting.  Three guesses where I learned that!

When all the excess batting has been trimmed away it is time put the usual quilting sandwich together and quilt the quilt.  You will have two layers of batting where the trapunto is and that makes those flower petals really stand out.  Nice!  Stitch around all the appliqué first, then fill in the rest.  I used stacked pancakes as filler in the center around the bouquet.  In the outer border I used small feathers and some columbine-like flowers.  Lastly I soaked the quilt to clean it and get rid of the soluble thread before binding.

For the binding I used Ricky Tims' method of applying it with piping and entirely by machine.  The only place to learn how to do this is on his "Grand Finale" DVD, but it is well worth the $22 as he covers all aspects of finishing a quilt including the binding.  I was pleased with the results although I used the same color piping as in the outer border so it is not design.

TIP:  Explore, experiment, stretch your mind and build your arsenal of techniques.  You get better with every quilt.

Here is the finished quilt. It won a "Meritorious" award at the Quilt Colorado Show.

Finished "Columbine"
(Caveat:  the color looks dull on the website, but it is really quite vibrant and true blue.)

Friday, June 20, 2014


Hiking in the mountains, I found this lovely grouping of columbine, my favorite flower.  My first thought was that it would make a pretty, little quilt.  I had recently taken a class on using hot ribbon to finish the edges of fused appliqué and that was my first idea.  If you are interested in that technique there is also a U-tube video.   I didn't like the results for this particular project so I shelved it and didn't revisit the idea for a long time.  Then I began doing blanket stitch appliqué and decided to try again.

The first step was to enlarge the photo on my computer and trace it in Illustrator with enough artist's license to make it sewable.  It took 13 drawings of various parts to assemble the final, full-sized composite with a 16x20 inch quilt in mind.  It turned out a little larger because of the borders, but the flowers remained the same.  I am an intuitive quilter and frequently adjust my patterns to the moment.

I first sewed the background together so it would be ready when the appliqué was cut and prepared to fuse.

Final Design
TIP:  Having the flowers spill out over the inner frame adds dimension to the design and creates a unique composition.

Columbine graphic (reversed)
You can see here that I have reversed the design and labelled each part with a system of numbers and letters so I could keep the many pieces straight.  Finally I traced all the pieces onto the paper side of Soft Fuse.  Since I had simply reversed the entire design, I didn't have to worry about reversing each part when tracing.  I had already assembled several blue, green and white-on-white fabrics.

TIP:  A design like this is more interesting and has more depth when different fabrics are used for separate petals and parts.  

I then laid the full sized pattern on my ironing board, covered it with a translucent, heat-resistant, silicon sheet, and laid out the pieces on that sheet, carefully following the pattern.  When I had everything arranged to my liking I laid another heat-resistant sheet on top and ironed it all together.  The idea was that all the pieces would stick together and I could peel it all off the silicone sheet as a unit and lay it on the background.  Oh dear!  The minute I lifted it up it all fell apart, pieces everywhere, no numbers or letters.  A few of the smaller pieces went AWOL and had to be traced, fused and cut again.  At that point I was done quilting for the day.

The next day, fresh for a new start I sorted the mess, and matched pieces to the graphic, which was now positioned under the background fabric on my light table.  The fabric had peeled right off the silicon sheet with the fusible still in place so all the pieces were still usable.  I iron-tacked the pieces to the background lightly, just to hold them in place.  When all was complete again I carefully moved fabric and bouquet off the light table and onto the ironing board.  I covered the fusible pieces, now directly on the background, with the silicon sheet and ironed them down with a vengeance.  Success!

TIP:  Fusing the pieces all together and lifting them onto the background is a great idea but there must be enough overlap among the pieces or it won't work.  Look at your design carefully and assess whether this technique will work for you.  Even so, I misjudged mine!

TIP:  Don't use the light table (mine is my acrylic extender table) as an ironing board.  It is OK to lightly tack a piece in place, but a plastic table will be ruined by the sustained, high heat that is needed for the final fusing.

The fun thing about this small quilt with lots of pieces was that I was able to make it entirely from my stash.  In my next post I will talk about some special touches, the quilting, and the finished product.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Blocking the Quilt

The judge's comment on Hallelujah Rhapsody that really threw me was that the quilt was not hanging straight.  I knew that this meant the sides were not equal, but I measured and they were equal...pretty much!  The diagonal measurements were close.  It was time to wake up and smell the flowers and learn how to block my quilts.  I wasn't going to worry anymore about this quilt, but I got busy and researched the process of blocking.  There is a lot of information out there and each tutorial has a different twist.  Without rewriting it all I will tell you how I block my quilts.

1.  I always pre-wash my fabrics so the colors won't run when exposed to water.  What is the point of blocking if your colors bleed all over the place?

2.  Do not bind your quilt yet.  Measure the unbound quilt (see the diagram below).  Measure across at the top, center and bottom (red).  Measure vertically the left side, center and right side (purple).  Be sure to include the amount you need for binding.  For a square quilt add up the measurements and average (divide by 6 in this case).  If your quilt is rectangular you will average the three measurements of the length (divide the total by 3) and the same with the three measurements of the width.   Average the two diagonals (blue) in the same manner (divide by 2).  Hopefully the measurements will be perfect, or at least very close.  A difference of 1/4 inch will work out, 1/2 inch makes me really nervous, 1 inch would destroy my day.

TIP:  Take your top, bottom and side measurements about 1-2 inches in from the edge.  There is almost always a bit extra out there by the time you finish quilting.  It will ease nicely into the binding, but will give an inaccurate measurement for blocking.

3.  Use your average measurements to trim your quilt, adding at least the width of your binding.  Be sure to cut your corners square.  A 12" square ruler is a great tool for squaring the corners.

TIP:  If you allow more than the amount of the binding, plan another trim session after the blocking is complete.

4.  When the quilt is finished, but not yet bound soak it in the bathtub for a couple of hours then gently squeeze out as much water as possible; do not twist.  You can also use the washing machine but do not let it agitate.  Leave the lid up so it will soak without getting beat up.  Then spin the water out gently.  The washing machine is certainly easier, but I can't use mine in the winter so I have used both methods with good results.

5.  Now comes the fun.  You need a flat surface that you can poke pins into and that will allow you to stretch the soggy quilt as needed.  You can place a clean sheet or blanket on the floor and pin the quilt to your carpet.  I prefer a big piece of styrofoam.  I bought two 4x8 ft. pieces with silver paper on the outside, and taped them together with packing tape.  This monster fits nicely on my bed or a large table, and I don't have to crawl around on the floor picking up pins in my knees.  It is light weight to move around and stores easily on its side - even with a quilt pinned to it, as occurs when I want to go to bed.  Next I use painter's 1" masking tape to mark where the edges of my quilt need to be pinned, measuring carefully as I stick it down.  Mark the center of all sides with a permanent marking pen on the tape.  Using the tape eliminates constant measuring and repinning, which can get exhausting.

TIP:  Caution!! Cats and dogs love the carpet method.  Your lovely quilt is the perfect place to curl up for a nap.

6.  Now you are ready to pin.  The directions I have read advise using T-pins, but the ones I have are too big and too difficult to stick through the wet fabric.  I bought some long, sewing pins and they work much better.  Place the pins in the edge of the quilt fabric where pinholes will be covered by binding.  Pin the four corners first.  Then pin the centers of all four sides, pulling the quilt to the edge of your carefully measured masking tape.  Place pins about 1 inch apart all the way around your quilt, easing if necessary.

TIP:  Don't be afraid to ask for help.  Sometimes you need an extra set of strong fingers to encourage the fabric to knuckle under to the averaged measurements and meet up with the masking tape.

TIP:  What if you have the edges all pinned, but there are pouffies in the middle where there seems to be too much quilt?  Pat the excess down gently, but don't squash your beautiful quilting.  Go back frequently and pat your damp quilt lovingly until it dries nice and flat.

There is a great deal of satisfaction in seeing a completed quilt pinned into submission all clean, flat and lovely.  Quilting imperfections seem to have disappeared into the batting and you almost wonder if you really made it yourself.  When it is dry, double check the measurements, and you are ready to bind it.  It will maintain its shape as long as it is kept dry.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Learning to Quilt

By definition a quilt must have a top, a filler (batting, flannel or, as in pioneer days, an old blanket), and a backing.  The sandwich must be fastened together.  A simple option is to tie it together with thread or yarn in multiple places.  Alternatively, the layers can be hand stitched with a varying amount of complexity.  A nicely done hand quilted quilt is a beauty to behold with a quality that cannot be duplicated by a sewing machine.  Today, with the world in such a big hurry, we want to speed up the process, so machine quilting has been reluctantly accepted and is also stunning when well done.

As with anything else, there is a learning curve.  Even a baby has to learn to feed itself and the first attempts can be pretty messy.  It takes time and practice to learn to coordinate the foot pedal, hand movement, machine speed, and even the movement of your eyes.  You can and should research the process via classes and/or reading, but YOU have to experience it yourself and practice.  You must learn about thread and needles in order to rein them in to work for you without causing alarming noises from your machine or broken needles and thread. You must learn what your machine likes and dislikes, and how to adjust the tension properly.  Lots to think about.

TIP:  Practice, practice, practice.  Start with paper and pencil to develop muscle memory of a design.  Make up fabric sandwich squares and spend some time each day to develop coordination.  Mark designs and learn to follow the lines.  Learn to stitch in the ditch.  Learn to do curves then straight lines.  Learn to draw freehand with the needle.  Inundate your brain with quilting ideas and improve your performance one step at a time.

Finally, the appliqué on Hallelujah Rhapsody was done.  It took a very long time.  I quilted it with numerous filler patterns, and that took a long time too, but I believe that on this quilt I became more competent than ever before, and I turned the corner into becoming interested in doing the quilting.  I always loved the sewing, but dreaded the quilting, because it never looked good enough.  They say that the quilting should be planned in the design process as it is an integral part of the quilt.  I knew that, but didn't yet know how to even think of quilting designs that wouldn't be executed for months yet.

TIP:  Before you begin quilting you should quilt around the outside of the appliqué.  I don't remember if I knew that when I made this quilt, but it is great FMQ practice and really improves the look of the quilt.  You can do it with invisible thread if you are worried about possible imperfections.

I quilted the Hallelujah Rhapsody on the fly with different filler designs.  There was no room for anything bigger.  I had chickened out on feathers and added them as appliqué.  Was that insane or what?  I have posted this picture before, but this time note the different fillers.

I learned how to do pebbles.  They are not easy, but invite a rhythm and commit you to strive to follow previous stitching lines perfectly.  They are a great exercise for developing control of the myriad parts that must interact in the process of quilting on a machine.  Among some of the pebbles I inserted flowers.  That was fun, and they make the quilting more interesting.  You will learn to either draw freehand with the needle or follow the marked lines, depending on your personal inclination.  I stippled some.  Did you know that stippling is one of the most difficult filler designs?  You have to constantly move in many directions and this is hard for a novice.  After finishing Hallelujah Rhapsody I found myself thinking about quilting ideas as I designed my quilts rather than as an afterthought.  Definitely a step in the right direction.

TIP:  In your early attempts at quilting try a more defined pattern and leave the stippling until later.  Don't distress too much over your imperfections.  If I had done so on this quilt it would still be in the UFO (Unfinished Objects) pile.

This quilt was my first to be juried into not one, but two shows.  I learned how to enter a show!  I was most gratified to have my quilt accepted even though it didn't win anything.  The judges offered several suggestions regarding my quilting:  attention to tension, strive for even stitches, watch starts and stops.  These comments were not unexpected as I was still very much a novice quilter so I worked on the areas in which I was judged deficient.

TIP:  Don't be discouraged by feedback such as this.  Just work on getting better.  The judges aren't mean, but they are very experienced, and I have found that even their negative findings are couched in positive terms on the evaluation.  Remember that you have achieved some level of competence to be juried into a show.  Very exciting!