Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Rules of Quilting

Every quilter must know and follow the rules....right?

When piecing:
  • *all intersections must meet perfectly
  • *seams should be perfectly straight and 1/4 inch deep
  • *mitered corners must be at exactly 45º
  • never use a steam iron to press your seams
  • always starch your fabric
  • never starch your fabric
  • always pre-wash your fabric
  • don't bother to pre-wash your fabric
When quilting:
  • all stitches must be exactly the same length
  • the machine must run at the same speed (tell my foot that!)
  • free motion means no pattern or lines to follow
How many of you follow all the rules (and the many more I haven't mentioned)?  How many of you have been arrested by the quilting police? There are many "rules" that will make your finished product better (i.e. the ones with a *), and there are others that may or may not make a difference.  Making a quilt is a major project, and it probably won't be perfect throughout.  Will anyone notice?  Probably not.  It is up to you to decide how perfect you want it and I can almost guarantee some reverse sewing will enter into achieving high levels of perfection.  You have to be your own quilting police person.

I got a comment last week by a reader who was pleased to know that it was OK to draw lines to follow when free-motion quilting.  I am an inveterate line draw-er.  My very first FMQ teacher complained that she cannot draw well with pencil, but has no trouble drawing with her machine needle.  I am the opposite.  If I am quilting a defined shape or grid I mark the lines on the quilt first.  Because long, straight lines are a major challenge I use my dual feed contraption to do a large grid.  The tiny ones I do with FMQ.  I can do feathers freehand as long as I have a boundary line within which to work.  I am comfortable with background fillers, as they are fun to play around with and are truly free-form.  Organic forms do not have to be a perfect shape and actually look better when they are free from restraint.  Sometimes I get them too free and have to take out some stitches, but that's OK.  I get it right the second time around (or maybe the third) (or fourth).

Below is a photo of my current quilt, which is nearly done.  I want you to see the lines.  All of the feathered and associated shapes have been drawn out with a turquoise, removable pen because I want them as exact as possible.  The turquoise is still very visible, but will disappear with water.   Sometimes I find a drawing error or change my mind and will redo it with a purple, removable pen as I go.  The purple disappears in air, so it is really a last minute marking tool.  For the straight lines at the edge I drew a guide line every half-inch to keep me from veering off.  Big or small I really depend on my marking, and guess what?  The quilting police don't even care, or at least they have never knocked on my door.  Besides I told the dog to chew on them if they come.

See all the markings?  I don't always hit them perfectly...but close enough.
On dark fabric I use a ceramic pen, which I can rub off with my quilting glove.

Ceramic pen.  Imperfect point.  I may have to do something about that!
I discovered something you should know.  Stitching a large, perfect circle with no bobbles and perfectly even stitching is harder that doing straight lines.  Beware and be aware!

Sew a happy seam this week.  I wish you no visits from the quilt police.

Monday, February 20, 2017


Micro-stitching is something I like to do.  I like to cover the quilt with lots of stitches.  I like the way it squashes the background and lets the design puff out.  I sew slowly as that is the only way I can maintain control of my free motion quilting.  My followers are aware that I work on a domestic machine, and I have learned to put up with occasional wrestling matches between me, the quilt and the sewing machine.  I have made it clear that I am in control...except when I am not.

I got busy quilting my pretty design and planned to stitch a micro-grid in the center.  When I was ready to do that the approximately 1 1/4 in. center was a huge puff.  Was I going to be able to do it?  YES!  I planned to win this one and I will tell you how I did it.

Look at that puff in the center!  Urghhhhh.
I knew that I could not do it without marking.  Sewing straight lines is hard under any circumstances, but these were really short and close together with a real risk of running into the surrounding feathers.  Marking is my crutch so I did that first thing.  I lined up a 3 in. square ruler with the diagonal line on top of the straight fabric grain and the center of the design, then drew a line along the straight side of the ruler with a purple marking pen.  From there I could measure and mark additional lines 1/8 in apart.  Rotate the ruler 90º, line up the previous marks with the perpendicular ruler lines and draw the rest of the grid.  It has to be done carefully and with a light touch because the puff is not a firm base for drawing.

Diagonal line of the ruler on the straight of fabric and design
Grid drawn with removable pen marks
There...it looks nice to the eye so I am ready to stitch.  Slowly.  Stitch by stitch.  Grids require some backtracking so be prepared.  Put in an extra stitch at an intersection and turn right or left as required.  Stay out of the feathers!  Keep the machine going at at constant speed.  Move your hands carefully.  Hold the quilt loosely.  The thread is 100 wt Kimono silk from Superior.  When the quilt is finished and soaked, that thread will sink into the batting and the eye will see the texture more than the stitching.

Water spritz removes the marking. 
The stitching is not perfect.  I wish it was, but you have allow yourself some slack.  No one is going to notice the irregularities.  This is not a very important element in the overall design.  Using a ruler foot and straight edge, thick ruler might have made it more perfect, but that is a $100 outlay up front and a fair amount of practice.  Not ready to do that right now.  Sometimes when I start I will stitch to the right of a line and the next stitch to left of the line, which is not good.  Straight lines should not zig-zag!  When I make that big of a mess I will rip it out and start again.  This grid I did with no thread breaks - no additional stops or starts.

Sew a happy seam this week.  I wish you straight stitching on your straight lines.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Adjusting the Machine

I have been on the road for the better part of two months.  Living in three homes in Seattle within three weeks over the holidays, then ten days at home to unpack, do laundry and repack for a trek to WI and MN, staying in two different homes and caring for my daughter after her knee replacement.  That is why my blog has been sparse for awhile.  The sewing machine stayed home, abandoned and solitary, but we loved spending time with our family.

We arrived home safely, but were very tired.  Unpacking took time, clearing away the suitcases took more time.  The chaos was mentally stressful, and I couldn't even get near my piano.  We live in a tiny cabin in the mountains so clutter can accumulate quickly.  I was so tired I didn't even want to sew.  Whatttt?  Did I really say that?  First, I had to re-establish my routine, but I also knew that if I sat down to sew, I would probably make mistakes and have to rip.  As I recovered and began to settle into the old pattern I finally decided, "It is time.  Get busy and work on that quilt," and I did.  Oh joy, I do love to sew!  I feel so good after a session of wielding needle and thread.  I only made one mistake and that was because I had forgotten about a thread color change so had to rip a tiny bit.  Not too bad.  I was afraid it would take awhile to get back in the swing of FMQ, but it didn't.  It is part of me now.

Another thing that plays into quilting is maintaining mental and physical well-being.  I am getting back into my exercise routine.  This takes more time than the FMQ because I live at 7500 ft elevation and the altitude must be taken into consideration.  I no longer experience altitude sickness after spending time in low country, but a little fatigue is apparent at first on my walks, so Dixie and I are working back up to our 2-3 miles a day.  Exercise keeps us physically fit, slows aging, tones the muscles, and provides quiet time to breathe the fresh, mountain air, and do some free motion, creative thinking.  It adjusts our bodies' machinery so it can do its best work.

Dixie on a winter walk.
How we both feel after exercise - happy, happy! 
Sew a happy seam this week.  I wish you time to adjust your inner machine.