Saturday, November 22, 2014


Did you figure out how Galaxies was made?  It is all paper pieced, but you already figured that out.  It is made from several major shapes, which are broken down into a log cabin type design using triangles instead of rectangles.  When the shapes are put together they create a 60º wedge.  Put the wedges together and you have a hexagon.

I think I would call this an advanced design for quilters.  There are a lot of difficult seams to match and points to stitch correctly.  It takes time.  The top black pieces are all part of a triangle shape so it is made of little paper pieced triangles like the colored part.  The side black pieces are large pieces of fabric - no seams.

Coloring in the little triangles is what makes the design move.  All of the triangle shapes have mirror images of each other, either horizontal or vertical, and with the same or different coloration.  The hexagon and pentagon are just what they are.  However, on each side of the pentagon notice the rhomboid shapes (skewed rectangles or parallelograms with unequal sides and angles).  They have been colored differently from each other to give movement to the hexagon.  They also create an unusual black shape at the bottom because some of the little triangle pieces are cut from black fabric.  Below is the the complete drawing of the design.  Add black fabric for the corners and you have a square quilt.

Illustrator drawing of Galaxies.

See last week's post to see the actual, finished quilt.

You can take a design like this, color it differently and have a totally different looking quilt.  Tons of fun!  I always color one wedge and then let Illustrator rotate it around the center to see the complete design.  Then I live with it for awhile, present it to my husband, incorporate his thoughts and try again.  This generally goes on for days, but it is fun to have him involved in the design process.  He has good ideas.

TIP:  What can I say?  Have fun.  The design process takes time.  It needs to percolate through your days and your nights.  It is easy to make changes at this stage.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Negative Space

RETRO:  Before I start this post I must refer back to my last one.  I never mentioned the value of "needle down" for FMQ.  If your machine has it, use it.  It is invaluable for keeping the quilt in place as you reposition.  Also, I didn't mention that I do all my quilting on my Viking Sapphire.  No space for a long arm machine.

TODAY:  Now for a discussion of negative Space:  What is it?  What am I supposed to do with it?  Is it important?

Negative space is a place where nothing lives.  It can be a plain block between colorful pieced blocks or it can be empty space around a central motif.  Note the quilt below.

Look at all that black around the spiral design.  It makes the spiral look a little lost.  I had finally reached the place where I was able to draw lovely feathers and all that space is heavily quilted with trapunto feathers.  I used a dark grey to stitch the feathers.  When you get up close you can see the quilting, but from a distance it might as well not be there.  The spiral itself is all done with stitch-in-the-ditch quilting.

Galaxies detail
This quilt was juried in to two quilt shows and I was quite pleased with that, but didn't win anything.  One judge dinged me for too much negative space.  The other judge found seam(s) that didn't match up.  Two lessons learned and acted upon with following quilts.

What is to be said for seams not matching?  Not much.  It takes fastidious pinning, sewing and persistence to get it right when there are several seams coming together in one place.  Next time I am going to forget the pins and glue baste.

TIP:  If you are interested creating exquisite quilts, it is important to pay attention to technique from the time you cut fabric to the time you finish the binding.  This is critical if you want to show your quilts.  If there is a mistake, the judges will find it!

As to negative space there is a lot that could have been done and my instinct kept nudging me that I needed something in those corners.  I didn't listen.  Another lesson learned!  I could have put a colorful quarter star in each corner or some sort of appliqué.  I could have quilted with a bright color of thread.  I could have (and may yet) added color to the feathers with Shiva Paintsticks.

TIP:  Pay attention to your creative muse.  It is usually right.  A creative muse is a source of knowledge reflecting an inborn sense of design, experience, vision, inspiration, technique, and external learning.  It will guide you to excellence, but only if you listen and act on what it is saying.

Off Topic:  Can you figure out how Galaxies was made?  I'll share that next week.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

How to Practice FMQ

How do you learn and continue to improve your free motion quilting?  Every teacher, every book, every online tutorial has thoughts on this process so this post reflects my own journey.  When you sit down at the machine for the first time you'll find that the quilting foot doesn't hold the fabric down,  the foot pedal wants to send the machine into outer space, your eye doesn't know what to look at, your hands are helpless, and the quilt bulk is totally unmanageable.  At least that is the way I felt.

1.  CHALLENGE:  Back and neck get stiff and sore.
CAUSE:  Poor posture.  Chair and machine don't meld to maintain good posture.
SOLUTION:  Get a good chair.  Plant your feet flat on the floor with thighs parallel to said floor.  Forearms parallel to the floor from elbow to sewing table.  Sit straight.  I found it helpful to get an unstable cushion (yoga cushion).  It takes some getting used to, but will strengthen your back and help you sit straight.

2.  CHALLENGE:  Body and brain tension.
CAUSE:  FMQ is intense because there is a lot to think about to get it right.
SOLUTION:  Take periodic breaks, walk around and stretch.  Drink water.  You will learn to relax as you do more FMQ.

3.  CHALLENGE:  Quilting doesn't look like the planned design.
CAUSE:  Inexperience.  Design may be too difficult at this stage.
SOLUTION:  Practice your design with paper and pencil before sewing.  This helps build muscle memory and eye-hand coordination.  It really works!  Doodle.  Doodle with the sewing machine.

4.  CHALLENGE:  I don't know what designs are best to learn with.
CAUSE:  Inexperience
SOLUTION:  Draw, then quilt some loops like the letter "e" and start with those.  Medium size is best for learning.  Keep practicing with any letter of the alphabet - it is OK to backtrack.  In fact that is a useful skill.  Look at books and online tutorials.  Leah Day has over 400 quilting motifs and has arranged them so that you can find the ones for your level of expertise.  She has short videos with each of them.  Practice on them.

5.  CHALLENGE:  I don't want to ruin my quilt with my imperfect skills.
CAUSE:  Lack of experience and practice.
SOLUTION:  Make at least a dozen 12-inch square sandwiches of fabric-batting-fabric.  I used muslin that I had, but you can raid your stash, buy fat quarters or whatever.  Pin the sandwiches together so they are ready when the mood strikes, or for daily practice sessions.

6. CHALLENGE:  My needle has a mind of it's own and doesn't always obey.
CAUSE:  Inexperience.
SOLUTION:  Keep your eye about 1/4 inch in front of the needle and it will follow.  Amazing, but true!  There is some kind of mystic connection between the eye, the hands and the needle.  Don't try to move your hands at the same time you are moving the fabric under the needle.  Stop, rearrange and start again.

7.  CHALLENGE:  My hands and feet don't coordinate.
CAUSE:  It takes some getting used to.  Sometimes your foot makes the machine go when you are not ready and that can cause havoc.  Sometimes the puppy steps on the foot pedal - urrghhhhh!
SOLUTION:  Work on keeping the machine going at a steady speed.  Listen to the machine.  You can hear when you are getting irregular.  Take your foot all the way off the pedal when you stop and don't put it back until you and your hands are ready to stitch.  It is not cool to stitch a finger.

8.  CHALLENGE:  After stopping then starting again the needle jogs off to the side.
CAUSE:  The fabric is pulling.
SOLUTION:  This is tricky because it is hard to get started along the same line again without a jog when the weight of the quilt is not supported.  Arrange the fabric in a nest around the machine so that you have complete control of the portion around the needle.  Bring the needle up then move it down almost to the fabric by hand so you are sure it will land in the right place.  Do a stitch in the same hole where you stopped, then start slowly as you move the fabric carefully.  You have to hold the fabric very steady as you start.  Practice this regularly on your little squares, but realize that managing a big quilt will be a bit more difficult...but you can do it.

9.  CHALLENGE:  Stitching in the ditch to anchor the quilt.
CAUSE:  It is intense and difficult to stay in the ditch.  It just is!
SOLUTION:  Stitch two inch squares together into a 12 inch "quilt," batting and all.  Practice sewing right in the ditch.  Be careful at intersections where the seam allowance may be switching to the opposite side.  When done correctly the thread will bury into the seam and be essentially invisible.

TIP:  I'd rather stay positive, but I must warn you about a couple of things.  Stippling is one of the hardest stitches to master.  Straight lines are also hard to manage until you have more control.  These are important to learn, but not critical at first so get your feet wet with easier designs.

When you feel reasonably confident with the alphabet, look at some books with patterns.  Most quilting books have some ideas and there are designs all over the Internet.  Before you know it you will gain competence with eye-hand-foot coordination and will notice that you can follow a line.  When I was finally able to follow a line exactly, I realized I could do just about anything with a needle and quilt.

TIP:  I found it great fun to quilt on medium to large floral fabric, following the edges of the flowers and leaves.  It great for beginners because the occasional misplaced stitches are not obvious.  Looks pretty too.

What are my recommended goals at this stage of the game?
*Maintain good posture.
*Strive for a regular, steady speed with the machine.  Some people go fast, some slow.  Some
machines have the option of a slow, set speed.  Decide what works for you.
*Aim for stitches that are all the same length.  No one is perfect, but it is an admirable goal.
*Keep your eye ahead of the needle.
*Learn to stop and start in the same place without the needle going off to the side.
*Draw designs.  Doodle.  Practice 15 to 20 minutes each day on the machine.
*Have fun with it.

TIP:  You learn to quilt by quilting.  With some practice under your belt go ahead and quilt your quilt.  Most people won't even notice the imperfections.  I promise you will get better with each quilt.

Here is one of my early quilts.  I tried my hand at FMQ and thought it looked so awful that I ripped out ALL the quilting and started over.  That is probably not the best way to practice quilting, but when I went back to it, I did a much better job.  I did simple, large flower petals in the plain areas and followed the border design in the fancy spots.  You really can't see the quilting in the border areas.  That is real advantage on this quilt!  I got a lot of practice doing this, and you know what?  The quilt is not ruined!


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Some Thoughts about FMQ

I can't remember when I started FMQ (free motion quilting), but at some point I decided I was going to have learn.
       My fingers refused to cooperate when quilting by hand.  
       Quilting by hand takes too long.  
       Having someone else quilt for me is too expensive.
       I don't want someone else to finish the quilt I have created.

In order to start the learning process I took a class at the local sewing machine store.  I was told that I had to sew fast.  Every time the teacher came by my table she said, "Speed up, you are going too slowly."  When I speeded up I immediately lost control.  It was like my running:  if I run too fast I fall flat on my face.  What did I get out of that class?  Discouragement, a mess on the fabric, and a fierce determination to quilt only straight lines with my walking foot.  
Walking Foot Quilting
The walking foot quilting looked fine and was easy, but terribly boring.  I really needed to tackle FMQ again.  I had the opportunity to take a beginner's class with Harriet Hargrave, the lovely lady who began the FMQ movement many years ago.  She was a rebel, but persisted and taught others her craft.  Her philosophy is that you can go any speed you want as long as you keep the machine running at the same, regular pace...your pace.  Ah, that fit so much better with my psyche.

Now I was on my way.  All I had to do was:
       *Keep my foot steady on the pedal.  Riiiight!
       *Use my hands to move the quilt through the machine in such a way that the stitches were all the same length.  Riiiight!!  (It helped to discover that my machine has a slow speed button.)
       *Keep my eye ahead of the needle.  I was promised that my hands and needle would follow. Riiiight!!!
       *Manage the bulk of the quilt so it doesn't pull, doesn't hang up on a corner somewhere, doesn't fall off the machine, and goes through the harp neatly and smoothly.  Riiiight!!!!
       *Prevent needle breakage and thread shredding.  Riiiight!!!!!
       *Somehow do all the quilting without ever stopping because when restarting, the needle created an unsightly jog off onto a new trail of its own choosing.

...and so it went for awhile.

Early FMQ
The quilt above fits a double bed, and the quilting is all FMQ on my domestic machine.  I spent half my time changing broken needles and broken thread.  The other half of my time I was manhandling the quilt trying to maintain some control.  There wasn't much time left for sewing.  The stitches were not terribly even, and the quilting didn't follow my imaginary lines.  I hadn't marked my design because I was not able to follow the lines anyway.  I finally finished, was happy to be done, and learned a great deal about how to manage the process.  Although not exquisitely beautiful, it is functional, I did it, I got a little bit better.

TIP:  Be gentle on yourself.  I know you would like to be another Leah Day or Diane Gaudynski, but give yourself time.  Don't quit.  You'll never improve unless you practice, practice, practice.  Watch tutorials.  Read books.  Practice, practice practice.  Concert pianists didn't become professionals by sitting on the couch wishing for music technique to be assimilated by osmosis.
Does all this sound familiar?  Please don't get discouraged.  I caught on and you can too.  Tune in next week and I will share with you the things that have most helped me become a better FMQer.

TIP:  Did I mention that PRACTICE is the single most important ingredient in learning to FMQ?