I've been working from the center on James's Space Quilt, filling the spaceship, earth, and background with lots of beautiful quilting:
Yes, it's this looks nice, but is this quilting getting too dense on the surface? This is supposed to be a soft, cuddly bed quilt designed to be light enough for warm summers or still useful as the top quilt for winter.
Working on it has gotten me thinking about quilting density and I just so happened to receive a question along these lines this morning as well:
My question is about the "stiffness" of the quilt after FMQ. I meander...and make stitches about 1.5-2 inches apart and never cross lines. But in doing this.. I find that the quilt is so stiff and not "cuddley". I started stippling...and learned to make the stitches farther apart as I mention with meandering, but still...the quilt is so stiff. I use 100% cotton fabrics and usually 100% polyester or sometimes 80/20 poly/cotton batting. It is about 1/2 inch thick and kind of fluffy.
I want my quilts to be soft, and cuddly, and able to wrap up in them..have them be able to wrap around legs while watching tv or just to wrap up as the only blanket used and still have some puffiness to them. How do I do this? I have tried several kinds of batting, and always the meandering..but still...while it looks nice...the quilts are stiff and not soft. ~ CheriCheri's question is running in tandem with my thoughts - lots of quilting looks nice, but will it FEEL nice when it comes time to wrap up with this quilt?
And this is one of those tricky things about making both bed quilts and art quilts. What works for one thing doesn't always translate over to the other.
Overall I'd say most of the stiffness issue will be sorted out with washing.
If you're using a cotton batting, chances are it will shrink slightly after washing and soften up the quilt. The more you wash it, the more the fibers will relax and meld together. No matter what kind of batting, fabric, or thread you use, it will respond and soften with repeated washing.
Right now the Space Quilt is feeling very stiff, particularly in the areas of fusible applique because the fusible material adds stiffness and dramatically changes the hand. I've found that this can change quite a lot once the quilt is washed a few times and the fusible given a chance to relax or dissolve, depending on the type.
As for a total solution to quilt stiffness - I'm not sure there is one that also includes lots of quilting texture and design. There's kind of a simple formula here:
Lots of quilting texture = stiffness, while minimal quilting texture = softness.
Then again, I can't help but wonder at this whole issue about density. Maybe it isn't an issue at all.
I mean, isn't the hallmark of hand quilting tiny, compact stitches? Don't hand quilters pride themselves on 20 stitches per inch (or less)?
Are we getting a bit obsessed about quilt density and stiffness when it's actually been the way quilts have always been finished? That the super soft, cuddly quilts we're after are really a product of both age in antique quilts and the mass-production of soft blankets from Wal Mart?
These questions are a bit off track, but I find myself touching the surface of the Space Quilt and wondering what my grandmother, or great grandmother would have said about it. Too dense? Or nice and secure? Overwhelmed with unnecessary texture? Or beautiful?
Knowing the simplicity of my grandma, she probably would say something wise and obvious:
If you've made the quilt you want to make, you've done it right.
If it's too stiff, too dense, too loose, too open, too WHATEVER - learn from that, change something, and improve with the next quilt.
I can't say exactly what will make your quilts finish perfectly the way you want them to, but I can say if you're willing to try different things, you will eventually find the right combination of materials, scale, and designs that will create the quilts you want to make.
Do understand there is no WRONG here. Even a stiff quilt is a quilt that can be used and enjoyed. While it might not be the cuddly masterpiece you were after, texture can still be fascinating for children to touch.
If James's quilt turns out stiff, do you know what I'm going to do?
Wash it as often as I can, occasionally take it outside for picnics in the grass, encourage James to jump on it, wrestle with it, and generally beat the snot out of it. After a year of hard use, if that quilt isn't super soft, then it must have had a steel wool batting in the middle!
Let's go quilt,