Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Quilt Along #9 - Moving the Quilt

Last week I shared a tutorial about quilting a real quilt on your machine and showed a video mostly showing the movement of my hands as I quilted this Crazy Pepper Quilt:

Many quilters requested a second video, this time showing the whole quilt from a different angle to better understand how the quilt moves on the machine and how I deal with the bulk of it at any given time.

So that's what I've done! I quilted another UFO quilt this week, this time a quilt that's been fully basted and ready to go for more than a year. This quilt is around the same size as Crazy Pepper, so it's a good example of how to move, reposition, and rotate your quilt on your home machine.


There are several things to note with this video and the first is it was sped up 8 times the normal speed so I could show you the entire process of the quilt being broken down into quadrants, then a single quadrant being quilted (the other 3 were quilted the same way with rows of quilting).

The second major note is my neck angle through most of this video. All I have to say is it explains a lot about why I've struggled with both intense headaches and neck issues for the last year.

As for a solution - if my chair had been lower, I might not have had to angle my neck in that way. However, if the chair is too low then your shoulders will come up to get over the quilt and you'll end up with a back ache, not a neck ache.

I'm still working out a better solution. Of course, not all machines are going to be so difficult to see around. One of the few annoying things about the Janome Horizon is how big and clunky the top area above the needle is. The front comes out quite far, so most of the time I'm bending my neck down just to see around the machine body to see where I've stitched the previous row.

This area needs to be thinner Janome!

So really it's a toss up between lowering your chair considerably, which will bring your arms and shoulders up, and may hurt your back, or you can leave your chair up higher and just deal with constant headaches and neck aches. Personally, I'm ready for my back to hurt!

Now let's move on to actually moving the quilt on the machine and table. For this, I was using a Queen Supreme Slider, which is double the size of the regular Supreme Slider.

These sliders are slick teflon sheets designed to make your quilt move easier over the surface of your machine. If you can fit one, a Queen Supreme is most beneficial because it takes up more room, helping the quilt move easier over a larger area.

Even if your arm isn't quite big enough, you can cut both sliders down with scissors to make them fit to your machine.

One thing to note is that these tools are very, very, very, VERY delicate. Yes, you can trim them down with scissors, so yes, you can also sew through them!

The best advice for using a slider for the first time is to TAPE IT DOWN.

Until you're used to the feeling of having a slider under your quilt, you won't know the telltale signs that you're stitching through it until it's too late. Tape the slider down on the corners so there's no chance it will move or shift while you're quilting.

The slider attaches to your machine with a pink slightly grippy side. It's not like a sticker, so it won't leave a residue or gummy place on your machine, however the grippiness of this tool is reduced every time you take it off because lint clings to it.

It's a good idea that every time you put the slider back on your machine to free motion, take a second to rinse it off at the sink before you get started. Pat it dry with paper towels and you'll find the grippiness is much better, but still - it's always a good idea to TAPE IT DOWN.

A lot of quilters ask about using a slider with the feed dogs UP as I advise. Yes, I'll be honest, the slider does get chewed a bit right around the feed dogs.

So far I've never found this detrimental to either the slider, my quilts, or my machine. The area does get worn with use, but that doesn't mean you have to stop using it.

You can always cut out the center of the slider if the area gets really worn.

Instead of using this slider for free motion quilting, I use it for times I need to use the feed dogs, like binding, where I have the whole quilt on the machine and a lot of weight and bulk to deal with. Having the slider under the quilt makes it move and slide around much easier, so I can continue using this tool effectively, even if the center gets worn out.

So the Queen Supreme Slider definitely helps the quilt move and glide more easily over the table and machine. Another aid for this job are Machingers Quilting Gloves which increase your grip and control over the quilt.

Finally the last thing that's really helped recently has been the new Ikea tables I just installed. These white tables around my machine have a slick coated surface that make them much easier to move the quilt over.

Now that we've covered ways to make moving the quilt easier, now let's talk about what we're actually stitching while this is going on. Remember back to Quilt Along #2: Quilting in rows - I showed an example of Quadrant Quilting. This is my preferred method for covering a quilt with one single design.

When quilting a large quilt with 1 design, I go a step further and break the entire quilt down into 4 quadrants with rows of a design first:

Depending on how big the design and the quilt is, this process can take around 1-2 hours. Once this part is knocked out, all you have to do is fill each quadrant which takes around 30 minutes each:



It's a good idea to play with this idea and experiment with different angles and directions before you settle on the one that works best for you. The biggest key with this is:

Work from the Center to the borders!

I received a comment from Daryl last week that perfectly illustrates why we need to work from the center to the borders of a quilt in a logical way:
My mother hand pieced a twin size Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt that was intended for my younger sister (when she was a teenager....Several years ago Mom gave that quilt to me to finish....So I too did a meandering quilt stitch like you showed on your video only my meandering was closer together. All was going well at first, but then I ended up in a spot where it puckered and I mean really puckered so bad that the fabric had to fold over on itself. Well 1/3 of the quilt was quilted and I was NOT going to rip out everything. So I had to quilt the puckers in. How could I have avoided the puckers? I started from the middle of the quilt and quilted out, but then the puckers occurred when I was quilting where 2 areas of quilting came together and that's where the major puckers where that I couldn't flatten it out.
In this situation, it's very hard to know what happened, Daryl, because I haven't seen the quilt or how you tackled quilting it.

However, if you're quilting from the middle to the borders, there shouldn't be an area where two massive sections of quilting meet up to create puckers like you've described.

I don't think you did anything wrong in this case, because the quilt is quilted and can now be used, which is much better than being a UFO. My one suggestion would be to try knocking out the quilt in a more logical way next time and use a thinner batting. Chances are some things were shifting thanks to the puffy batting you mentioned using. Also a dense stippling / meandering is far less forgiving than a bigger scale design. Next time try stitching the design bigger as well.

Has this ever happened to you?

The best way to avoid pleats and puckers is to use Quadrant Quilting. At any given time, you can smooth out excess fabric and potential puckers because all the open edges remain open so the fabric has somewhere to GO at any given time. When you lock the edges of a quilt, you essentially slam the door on your ability to smooth out fabric and potential pleats.

So now that you have seen how a real quilt is moved, repositioned, and rotated while it's quilted, it's time you get on your sewing machine and try it!

Now just in case you're blind with boredom over stitching Stippling on a large scale, don't worry! Next week we're going to stitch it up a notch and start working on our first wholecloth quilt!

Now let's link up all your progress from last week:





Instructions for Linking Up Your Blog:

1. Write your blog post. Publish it on your blog.

2. Copy the link of the specific blog post. This is not just the link to your blog itself (www.freemotionquilting.blogspot.com), but the link to the specific post: http://freemotionquilting.blogspot.com/2012/01/quilt-along-2-quilting-in-rows.html

3. Click the blue link up button above and paste your link into the box.

Keep in mind that you're posting your progress from LAST week on THIS week's post. This way you have time to watch the lesson, play with the ideas, then post your progress to the next quilt along. I hope that makes sense!

As always, any questions you have, please post them in the comments below or on your blog and I'll answer 5 tomorrow on Question Thursday.

Time to shut up and go quilt!

Leah

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I LOVE IKEA!

Hello. My name is Leah and I am an addict.

I am hopelessly, utterly, completely addicted to IKEA!

Just in case you've never heard of this place / business / phenomenon / restaurant / way of life, allow me to take a day to digress into a monologue of my deep love and affection for this Swedish furniture store.

Yes, that is indeed what it is: just a furniture store.

But at the same time, it's not just a furniture store because it's so much more! This place is a mecca of extreme organization, a place where a person like me (organization queen supreme) can go a little insane.

The first time I went to IKEA in Charlotte, I had both Josh and James with me, which limited my ability to truly take in the top floor which is basically a huge open area filled with organized living spaces. Living rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, kid rooms, offices, and whole 570 sq foot apartments are all set up to wander through and droll over.

All of the spaces you see are small, but maximized to the hilt with hidden shelving, sleek organizers, awesome lighting, and gorgeous design. It's hard to truly describe exactly how it feels to wander through these areas - both overwhelming, exciting, stimulating, and also frustrating because there's no way you can see everything all in one day.

As I walked through this vast store, holding tight to James's unwilling hand (this is definitely a store you can lose a child in easily), I could feel myself falling in love. In truth, I'm not a huge fan of modern art or architecture, but I sure was falling in love with it that day!

This is probably because I could already see how IKEA was going to change my sewing room. To say it simply: Over the last 7 years, I've collected way too much fabric, batting, notions, buttons, beads, ribbons, etc. While I certainly enjoy this collection, I've run into a problem in recent years of never being able to FIND what I need when I need it.

But I have a theory - if everything has a place, a home, within my sewing room, and I always put away my toys where they belong, then I will always be able to find what I need, AND I will have a clean studio all the time!

And guess who is going to help me organize my studio to the hilt? IKEA!

The most wonderful thing about this store is it's CHEAP. This might be nice Swedish (I have been corrected!) furniture, but because the company focuses on letting you DIY (do it yourself), they also cut a lot of costs out of selling fully built furniture.

This means you can buy a set of drawers for $50 and put them together yourself with a screwdriver and a hammer, instead of buying the piece already put together for $100.

And unlike Walmart and Kmart's cheap plasticy bins which warp under weight, IKEA offers sturdy, dependable furniture that will hold a ton of stuff without breaking a sweat. So far one of my favorites is this pull out drawer system:

This is the Antonius Basket set with 4 baskets.

Not only can you see what projects, batting, or fabric you're storing, you can access them easily as well!

Another favorite are their kitchen rail systems. This might not sound very exciting, but they've designed a set of rails, hooks, cups, dish drainers, and spice holders that all fit together in a universal way.

This is the Bygel rail system with cups,
wire basket and many hooks to hold rulers.
Also that's an iron holder above - my #1 favorite!

I've managed to take the giant mess of nails and hooks down from this wall and hang double the number of rotary rulers, store my rotary cutter, pens, starch, and miscellaneous tools needed next to my ironing / cutting area all on the wall.

I LOVE this setup because for the first time in 5 years, I've managed to cut and press fabric multiple times without losing either my rotary cutter, ruler, or iron!

Back in the sewing room, I've also replaced the folding tables that used to go behind and beside my sewing machine with these Vika tables:

This is two Vika Amon tables (59 inches - one was cut down a bit)
with Vika Kaj adjustable legs - note the Antonius baskets are actually under this table!

Using adjustable legs, the tables are exactly the height they need to be, and the slick white surface means my quilts are moving even easier than before.

Why bother replacing folding tables that already worked fine? Folding tables always have those bars below that hook into the middle of the table for stability. These bars prevent you from using the full space below the table properly for storage.

This is a normal folding table - it works,
but look at all this wasted storage space! Uggh!

Case in point is our office table where Josh packs orders. We used to use folding tables here too and it was always a mess below of plastic binds and drawers that never fit all the things he needed to pack efficiently.

A quick trip to IKEA later, and I optimized this setup 100% so there's plenty of room below and awesome storage above for labels, bags, and box cutter, the tool that was always needed, but always lost before.

More Vika Amon tables (longest 78 inch version here) with more adjustable legs.

I can't tell you how much these small improvements have made a difference in our lives. I'm no longer wandering around trying to find tools I've set somewhere random, Josh and I can pack together without stepping on one another, and there's now a place and home for most of the junk that previously created a cluttered mess before.

Unfortunately here's where my addiction has gone a bit...overboard. Every inch of our house has been subject to inspection and I find myself always asking "How can I optimize that? What does Ikea have for that space?"

This lead to me rearranging our guest bedroom and noticing just how inefficient our books are stored. I kept my quilting books downstairs, but was constantly bringing them upstairs to read and enjoy. They'd then pile up and make a cluttered mess.

It made sense to set up a new set of bookshelves with ALL the books in the house all organized in one room:

Combination of Billy and Benno bookcases

I couldn't believe that all our fiction books, plus all my quilting / crafting books didn't even fill up all the shelves! This is so much more efficient, I was able to push the futon back against the window and open up a space on the floor for my yoga mat.

The amazing thing about IKEA is just how successful it is by one rule: Keep It Simple. Simple furniture in simple boxes for fair prices. Even the construction of the book shelves and drawers I've put together was extremely simple!

It's amazing when simple ideas, functional organization, and nice design all come together to make a big difference. Now if I could just optimize the rest of my house, there would be no more messes, clutter, or missing tools ever again!

Or maybe that's just wishful thinking...I'm really not the neatest person in the world!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

Monday, February 27, 2012

Tale of Two Goddess Quilts - Part 1

With Torrent of Fear finished, I'm 1 down, 11 to go on my goal to make 12 goddess quilts this year. While I'm not moving as fast with this goal as I'd like, it still feels great to be working on these quilts a bit each week.

But which goddess should I make next?! I have several goddesses designed, several in my head, and a few even fully designed and one already printed and prepared for construction. Any one of those one would definitely be the fastest and easiest to work on, but it just didn't feel like the right one to work on right now.

So what feels right, right now? Allow me to digress for a day into one of my more personal posts. These posts always come with a disclaimer: only read this if you want to.

I will not share amazing quilting tips or teach cool techniques in this post. Instead I'm going to take a day to write about some personal stuff that you may, or may not find entertaining or interesting.

So if you'd rather not learn some things you'd rather not know, feel free to click here and catch up on all the quilt along posts shared so far this year.

Don't say I didn't warn you!

Now for the next goddess: I'd like to design a quilt that perfectly captures the moment of James's birth.

James just turned 5 years old on Saturday. Where exactly did those 5 years go?! It's hard to believe time has moved this quickly and that my little boy will be starting his first year of real school (pre-kindergarten) this fall.

His birthday always brings to me a strange mix of memories as that day is still branded in my memory as clearly as if it happened last month. I'm not sure if all women remember their childbirth experiences as clearly, or if it's down to the fact that I journaled and recorded the experience while it was happening.

I just didn't want to forget any part of that day, and this was a good idea because you really can't forget something when you can always refer back to notes!

So James's birth is always a special time, largely because he is such an awesome, loving child and also because that day marked a massive turning point in my life. It is not an exaggeration to say that James and I were both born that day.

Or more accurately, that an important piece of myself finally woke up after 20 years of hibernation!

Of course, it's very difficult to explain this event without getting into the sticky details of James's actual birth. After several tries of writing this, I've finally decided to condense this down to the most important details, again, only read this if you really want to:

The day James was born, I labored for 14 hours. Really the first 4 hours were quite pleasant, but the last 10 were very intense. Only after having James did I realize he was turned sideways, which meant his shoulders changed the way my body contracted around his body, causing intense back labor.

The last 4 hours are condensed into a blur of pain and intensity in my mind. I remember at some points the contractions coming so fast, and the pain so intense, I felt like I was being split in two. Towards the end I wishing for a gun to shoot myself, not because I was suicidal, but because I just wanted the intensity to STOP!

That's when I started pushing like a madwoman, gripping my husband's arms and forcing every cell of my body to push that THING that was inside me OUT into the world.

Then a head emerged and the strangest thing happened: for the first time in my pregnancy I understood that this wobbly thing that had been inside me for months was a REAL PERSON. A separate entity! Another human being!

This might sound crazy, but I never really GOT that idea until that truly magical moment when James's head was out of my body. I reached down and cradled his head and another weird thing happened - everything stopped.

I'd worked all day at this task, consumed with the swirling energy of this natural act, and entirely possessed with the mental and physical effort of dealing with so much intensity. When I touched my child for the first time, all the pain of the last few hours vanished and I went to a place in my mind I'd never been to before.

It was a place of utter, absolute peace. I felt absolutely no pain, no sadness, no fear, and for the first time in my life, I could not hear my terrible inner negative voice (INV). It was pure peace and stillness and quiet.

It is this moment that I speak about as the moment that changed my life. At this moment, I didn't know if my child was a boy or a girl, I didn't know if he had 10 fingers or 10 toes, I didn't know what his name would be or if the diapers I'd bought the week before would fit.

All of the feeling and emotion of the last several hours suddenly paused, like taking a deep breath and holding it, for a magical moment as my brain shifted suddenly to understand these two monumental ideas: that this child still inside me was a new human being, and that this feeling of peace was actually possible.

It was the moment of peace that seemed to be the bigger surprise because I'd never experienced my brain do anything other than think, criticize, or worry for so many years. That moment planted a seed within my consciousness.

It was a seed of truth: this peace is attainable all the time.

This seed grew as James grew and has led me to make quilts, read books, make connections, and work tirelessly to overcome my destructive thought patterns. Without that moment of peace, I might never have found the strength to pursue show quilting, which would never have lead me to start this project, form this business, or support my family.

So to put it simply: that moment is everything to me.

And this is the way I've decided to illustrate it within a goddess quilt:

To me this design symbolizes everything that was going on in that moment: my child emerging, his body separate from mine, despite the fact that he was still within me, my mind shifting around these new ideas and awakening to this new awareness, and both of us suspended and held over a hand that protected us and kept us safe as we both emerged from this moment.

To some people, this goddess design might be a bit controversial. It's pushing the line of sexuality and of showing birth, something that is seen a lot in art, but not a lot in traditional quilts.

I have heard about quilts with certain amounts of nudity or sexual imagery often get kicked out of quilt shows, or displayed in separate rooms from the main event as if there's something wrong with them. I always find this funny because...well...quilts go on beds, right? What do you think happens under those quilts?! lol

Still, I've said it more than once that show quilting isn't my main interest anymore, so why should this matter?

And this is the reason why I think this quilt is so important to make right now, right after Torrent of Fear because by creating it I will be overcoming this fear of creating a controversial quilt. I will be teasing that line of acceptability, and it will be interesting to see what happens as this project develops.

Honestly, I don't want to offend anyone, but I do need to create this quilt, to acknowledge this moment as the super important, life changing moment it was.

Recently I've started working to understand this moment and where I "went" when everything stopped.

It turns out that I didn't "go" anywhere new, I was just finally pulled firmly into the present moment and for the first time, my mind stopped chewing on the past, or worrying about the future.

For that moment, I was only focused on the NOW, the present moment, and for that precious time, there were no problems, no pain, no anger, no sadness, no depression, no abuse. All that was left was a deep sense of peace and stillness.

For a long time, I couldn't understand this feeling. It honestly scared me for awhile because it felt so alien to how I normally felt.

This is kind of funny to think about now because it illustrates just what a toxic place my mind used to be. Just like the guy who ate meatloaf thinking it was cake, my mind was tasting a new flavor - joy - but it couldn't quite understand what it was eating.

To understand this better, I've started working through a wonderful book called The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

The basic premise is the only time we have is right now, this moment, but we are rarely HERE to experience it fully because our mind is either chewing on the past or grinding away on the future.

The basic lesson within this book is to BE PRESENT. Be here, where you are right now. Not with your mind in the future, or your mind in the past. Just be here, in the now.

When I say "working through" this book that is definitely true. I read a few paragraphs each night and try to practice being present as I fall asleep and throughout the day. It's not a quick or easy read, and it's important to go back and re-read chapters as needed.

Only after working through this book slowly over the past few weeks did I have a sudden "Ah ha!" moment in yoga class. In the middle of a pose I suddenly thought "Being present means NOT THINKING."

I know to anyone more versed in meditation or yoga has probably realized this long ago, but for me this was a big deal. I've never really understood that thinking can STOP, and that this was the key to that moment of peace when James was born. My mind stopped completely for that moment and for the first time, I was completely 100% present in that moment. No wonder it was so amazing!

Thanks to this book and thanks to my deepening desire to live in the present, I've started practicing yoga every morning. I roll out my mat and spend 30 minutes stretching, breathing, and bringing my mind back to that peaceful no-mind place.

At no other point in my life have I been able to give myself this gift of a daily practice. Usually I'm in such a hurry to get to work, to quilt that quilt, to write that post that it overwhelms my desire to do anything else.

Lately I've found that by practicing yoga in the morning, I'm far more calm, peaceful, and focused on the tasks waiting for me in the office, which means they're usually completed far faster than if I skipped practice and went straight to work.

But the great thing about the power of now is that you don't need to give birth to find this place of peace! You don't need to do anything amazing or life changing, you just need to start paying attention to your thoughts and returning your focus regularly to the present.

How many times while reading this post has your mind wandered? You might have updated your grocery list, made a mental note to get your car washed, thought about what happened last week, worried about what will happen next week, or considered fabric for your next quilt?

Planning certainly does have it's place, but it becomes a problem when you plan so constantly that it never stops. Why plan and think constantly about a vacation, only to be in the hotel on your vacation and be thinking only about the drive home?

I find this is especially true when quilting. While cutting fabric, am I really THERE focused on moving the rotary cutter and holding the ruler, or am I bouncing around in the future of how I will quilt the finished quilt?

How many times have I cut fabric wrong for this exact reason? If your mind is not present, it's not really paying much attention to what is going on NOW, is it?

So to illustrate this lesson, I've also designed a second goddess:

I already know the background of this goddess will change. While I like the circles, I've decided to introduce a traditional quilting element by piecing a giant dahlia quilt in the background. Should be interesting!

This is truly the first goddess I've designed with a full face: eyes, nose, mouth. I've been so afraid of designing a quilt with a face because the risk of getting an element wrong and always seeing it every time I looked at the goddess's face.

But to be present is to face this fear eye to eye. To be truly present is to be truly awake and aware of what is going on around you.

I plan to work on both quilts at the same time, mostly because I need to work a bit faster on these goddesses, but also because the theme for both is so intertwined.

I already know that working in the now is a continual practice. It's not something that you wake up one morning just able to stay present all the time. It's a habit you have to cultivate, and it's a tricky one to work on because our minds are so used to living either in the past or the future.

Now if I lost you way back in the Power of Now, don't worry. It has taken me weeks to work through even the first few chapters of this book. It's tough, and it's not for everyone. I respect that and will always start the posts about these two goddess quilts with fair warning for those that are not interested in this subject.

So now that I have two girls designed, it's high time I shut up and got started on them!

Leah Day

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Torrent of Fear - Part 4

Today I'm finishing up Torrent of Fear, a goddess quilt I started back in January. I'm super happy with this quilt because it's been such a quick finish, and seems to be a perfect balance of texture, color, and design.

Unfortunately even though it's been a quick quilt, it hasn't been quite quick enough. Over two areas I got a bit bogged down. The first was the decision to add thick gray yarn over the hair and clouds.

For this, I had to learn how to spin art yarn, and I had to find the right colored fleece to make the yarn! Kind of a weird delay, but now that I know how to spin, I can't seem to stop!

Once the yarn was on the hair, securing it became a bit of a problem. I was considering the idea of layering some Sulky water soluble stabilizer over the top and quilting over it all, but was unsure if it would wash out over the wool yarn or just get gummy and nasty.

A quick facebook post about the issue resolved my fears. Many quilters recommended using water soluble stabilizer and I'm happy to say it worked great! I hand basted it over the surface of the hair, then quilted the area with 1/4" wide stippling from the BACK. This was much easier from the back because I couldn't see the yarn lines and obsess too much about how it looked.

Another delay has been deciding what to quilt over the rain section. This section was quite tricky because the blue fabric strips were all running vertically, which made most designs just look weird over the surface. Added to the fabric was the thick yarn in the hair and clouds, which was quite frankly a &*^@$ to stitch close to.

Several times I stitched a design, only to look at it and rip it right back out. Stitch and rip. Stitch and rip. It gets tedious after awhile!

Eventually I realized that this area was limiting my ability to finish the entire quilt. I was focusing on it so hard, I couldn't see the other areas that needed quilting, like the hair, background gray section, and black border.

I think this is a good lesson for most problems: when you focus on something too much, it becomes all you can think about. When you move on to something else, that problem usually sorts itself out.

So I moved on to the gray section and even started filling the black section and suddenly an idea popped into my head: why not hand quilt the rain section with thick metallic thread?

And that's what worked! In truth this isn't hand quilting this section because the metallic Razzle Dazzle thread isn't going through all 3 layers of the quilt. I'm stitching it down into the quilt, through the batting, then back up to the quilt top. So technically this is embroidery?

Whatever it's called, it's perfect! It makes me think of raindrops and I love the little bit of glitz the metallic thread adds to the surface.

So now all that's left is binding, hanging sleeve, and a tag on the back!

Overall I'm extremely pleased. To go from quilting super elaborate, ultra time consuming, ridiculous fills over Emergence to this much more open, much faster, much more enjoyable quilting is a very nice change.

I just hope as I keep moving with this new style that it's not a detrimental change to the series. I don't want it to end up that you see the group of all the girls together and when you get to this quilt you think "And here's where Leah's style fell off a cliff..."

But the truth is, I'm happier with this quilt and more enthusiastic about finishing it than I have been with either Hot Cast or Emergence. While it might not look as impressive, it's certainly been a much more enjoyable experience, and that is the most important thing.

Now it's high time I shut up and finished up this little quilt!

Leah Day

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Question Thursday #8

It's Question Thursday yet again and time to answer any questions arising from connecting our quilted pieces together from last week. There are lots of questions here about connecting the pieces, adding borders, and other details that I may followup with another post later this spring!

Remember, you definitely don't have to be quilting along or have a blog to post a question! The best place to post your questions are in the comments section of the Wednesday Quilt Along posts.

The first question this week is from Pat at Color Me Quilty:

Is it okay to make large quilts with this QAYG method?

Is there anything I need to do to make sure I don't make it "wavy"?

Technically there should be absolutely no problem with making big quilts with this method, or any effective Quilt As You Go method.

Keep in mind as you plan your project that putting the pieces together will be more challenging as the quilt gets bigger.

Connecting blocks together into rows is usually not too difficult, but it's when you start connecting the rows together to form the finished quilt top that things can get tricky.

It is absolutely possible to make any sized quilt with this method though, but do make sure you will have the table space to spread out the rows and connect them together when you get to that stage.

Also please don't assume that any QAYG technique will save you time.

You are NOT saving time with this technique. You are saving yourself from shoving a king sized quilt into a 6 inch sewing machine harp! Putting the pieces together AFTER they are quilted is going to take time, patience, and energy. You will have to deal with big pieces eventually as the quilt comes together.

Look at it more as a choice of where you want the difficulty to lie: do you want to fight the bulk of the quilt while you quilt it, trying to make pretty designs on the surface, or do you want to deal with the bulk when connecting the pieces together?

It's a trade off, not a time saver to quilt your quilts in pieces. Do keep that in mind. Often I've run to new techniques because I think they will be faster and found later that they are not actually faster, they just shove the difficulty off to another section of the quilt.

As for waviness - I assume this is along the edges of the quilt? A good idea if you want to use this method for a wall hanging is to soak and block each individual block first (that way they're all 100% square) then soak and block the finished quilt.

For a bed quilt, blocking the finished quilt will probably sort out any wavy issues. The best blocking instructions can be found in Karen McTavish's book Quilting for Show. This is where I learned to block and still use exactly the same method.

Personally I've found waviness a result of binding too tight, or stretching the edges of the quilt as you bind. If you're careful with these sections it usually doesn't happen.

Keep in mind that a quilt created with QAYG technique is no less stable or secure than a quilt made in a traditional way.

If you're really worried about stability, after the entire quilt is together and all the binding strips secured, put on your walking foot and stitch lines 1/8" inside all the binding lines. This will stitch through the top binding, quilt seam allowance, and back binding, totally securing all layers together completely. Ain't nothing gonna come out now!

We have a second question about the Quilt As You Go technique from Anne's of Anne's Threads:

How to finish off a QAYG quilt?

Make and quilt borders and add them in the same way? Though I think this one will look fine if I just bind it in the same fabric I've used to join the blocks.

The truth is you can finish these quilts any way you like!

You can put the blocks together and bind right off the edges:

You can put the blocks together, then add a border:

This particular border was attached in a weird way. I layered the border, batting, then the blocks, then the border backing fabric together and stitched a 1/4" seam.

I then spread out the backing, batting, and border fabric down and quilted them after they'd been attached to the quilt.

Looking back at it, I think this method has merit, but you might want to trim some of the bulk out of the seam since it's noticeably lumpy.

You could also carefully measure and stitch a border and attach it to the top and sides of the quilt. I've never personally tried this, but will soon get experience with it as the 365 quilt will likely have borders attached this way.

You can also take a Wave Edge Ruler and make the edges of your quilt intentionally wavy, then bind it with bias binding!

So the possibilities really are endless and there's a lot of room to play here. I bet I could spend a whole year just playing with QAYG techniques....hmmm....that might be an idea for 2013...

Anne also had another question about getting the blocks and rows together:

Any tips regarding these issues with keeping the layers lined up and not wandering when sewing?

This definitely can be a bit tricky. On the one hand, you want a perfect 1/4" seam allowance, on the other hand, you're definitely stitching through multiple thick layers that are usually stitched with a walking foot.

Personally I really like putting these pieces together on my Bernina machine because the 1/4" patchwork foot on that machine is just simply perfect for this technique. This is the reason I always keep a Bernina on hand - this foot is narrow and perfectly designed for piecing through multiple layers so you don't need to use a walking foot:

If you don't have a Bernina, try to see if there is a 1/4" walking foot made for your machine. If even that is not an option, try marking or taping a guide to your machine that is approximately 1/4" from the needle.

I happened to notice that Anne owns a Janome Horizon 7700 and for that machine I don't like the 1/4" even feed foot because it has a giant clunky guide on it (no offense Janome!)

For this job, I personally prefer the Open Toe even feed foot because it has this inner bar (see what I'm pointing at above) and I've measured it a few times and it's close enough to 1/4" and it's fairly easy to line things up using it.

I'd also say that the more practice you get with this technique, the better you will get at it. Right now everything seems to want to shift and dance on you. Play with it some more and you'll eventually get that fabric in line with no problem.

Perfect stitching also seemed to be on Malini's mind from My Quilting Journey:

While binding these quilted pieces if we happen to stitch generous 1/4inch at some places, should we go back and rip the stitches and start over again?

Or if we can hide it using hand binding, should we do that? I personally feel that I can pull the fabric little bit, since cotton has some stretch and hide the mistake. Is this a good idea or practice?

It truly depends on how far off you get when stitching the blocks together. If you waver 1/8 inch, chances are it will be fine. If you make a wild mistake, like stitching through the back binding when you're not supposed to, this technique might not work.

I'll be honest: I do utilize the natural stretch within cotton fabric to hide mistakes. I don't think this is a bad thing, and I don't think it will undermine the quilt if you occasionally have to pull the back binding a bit to get it to cover completely.

Gwyned Trefethen had a good point on her post:
I would change one aspect of Leah's directions. She has you cut the back channel strip 1.5" wide and fold it in half, creating a 0.75" wide strip. Folds, no matter how crisply pressed always take up a thread or two. Therefore, the 0.75" is more like 0.70" and falls slightly short of the machine stitch line it should be hiding. I would prefer to make my strip lightly oversized for the back and cut it 1.75" wide instead, thus guaranteeing coverage.
So if it works better for you, cut that back binding 1 3/4 inches wide instead of 1 1/2 inches wide to give yourself a bit of extra room to play.

Malini also asked:

Once bound, do you put extra stitches on top of these binding for the pieces to hold together?


Or this is not necessary since the quilt will be strong to hold all the washes?

I covered this a bit at the end of Pat's question - if you like you can certainly stitch some lines over your quilt 1/8" from the edges of all the binding. This will form a sort of grid like look on the surface and might add a nice additional stability.

But only if you really WANT to!

You could also finish off the binding channels with a nice decorative stitch. I'm finally starting to play with the decorative stitches on the horizon and loving the effects. Here's the edges of Crazy Pepper stitched with rows of stars:

I really don't think you need more stability or connectivity than the binding strips, but remember - it's your quilt! Make it the way that makes you happy!

If you don't feel like your quilt is truly stable, add some more stitching. If you're happy with the way it looks and feels, bind that sucker and start using it!

Now it seems like there's a lot of different ideas and techniques thrown around in this post. If you'd like to see ANOTHER tutorial on this Quilt As You Go technique, this time on adding borders and binding, please let me know in the comments below.

Now it's time for me to shut up and go quilt!

Leah

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Quilt Along #8 - Quilting a Real Quilt

It's Wednesday again and I have super exciting news: I finished this 4 year old UFO!

This quilt is called Crazy Pepper and I quilted it in about 3 hours on Sunday night. Through this process I remembered and re-learned many things about quilting real quilts on a home machine and I'd like to share them all with you for this weeks lesson:


Pinmoors pin anchors and Machingers Quilting Gloves were both super helpful tools for getting this quilt quilted so quickly and easily on my machine. Learn more about them in the Day Style Designs Quilt Shop.

So this week let's talk about quilting real quilts on a home (domestic) sewing machine! I know this is what most quilters want very badly to do, and having finished this little quilt this week, I can certainly say it's a wonderful feeling to have completed this quilt after moving it around my sewing room for nearly half a decade.

But I won't lie to you: quilting a bigger quilt on a large scale can be challenging.

There are a lot of things we have to deal with when quilting a real quilt that really aren't a factor with a practice quilt or cheater cloth.

Here's just a few challenges I dealt with while quilting Crazy Pepper:

- Wild, busy, crazy prints - We have access to amazing, gorgeous fabrics these days which can create beautiful quilt tops, but there's a slight downside of the crazy print getting being so overwhelming you can't see where you're going.

- Matching Thread - Not only are you going to get lost in the crazy prints, matching thread with these crazy colors means you won't know where you've stitched because you can't see where you've been!

- Thick, bulky seams - Pressing your seams OPEN (yes, we will get to this debate later) definitely helps to reduce the bulk of seam lines, but sometimes when 4 or more pieces match up all in the same area, it's impossible to reduce the extra layers entirely. This extra bulk is an extra challenge when stitching a soft, curvy design like Stippling.

- Bulky Quilt - Even with awesome tools like the Supreme Slider to make the quilt glide more easily over the table and Machingers gloves to help grip the surface, moving this quilt quickly and smoothly in these large shapes was a tricky.

So these are the typical challenges of a real quilt and they shouldn't be minimized.

The fact is the quilting process is not always the easy, fast, fun, simple process that piecing or applique can be. We're doing something a lot more labor intensive than slicing up fabric and putting it back together. We're stitching three big pieces of fiber together SECURELY - it's bound to take a bit of time and effort to get this done right!

The fact that we choose to do this with a home sewing machine is not a lesson in insanity or futility. Yes, there are bigger machines that can do the job faster and more efficiently, but they also come with price tags that most of us can't stomach.

The flip side is also true. Ask a hand quilter if her life is painless. She might not have the same trials as we do (shoving a quilt into a small machine arm for one), but you better bet she's bled on more than one quilt!

So let's get one thing straight: when I say this is "challenging" I don't mean to intimidate you.

I'm simply being honest: quilting a real quilt in one big giant piece is not going to be as easy as quilting practice quilts or a quilt broken down into smaller pieces.

There are ways to make it easier though, so here's some tips I picked up while quilting Crazy Pepper:

1. If you have crazy prints, do yourself a favor and contrast thread color.

Seriously, if you have a quilt top made of fabrics that are practically dancing with excitement, how will a contrasting thread color hurt? The benefit of contrasting thread is the simple fact that you will be able to SEE where you're going.

Visibility is truly key with free motion quilting. If you can see where you're going and where you've previously stitched, you'll be able to focus more of your attention on actually forming the stitches and maintaining a good stitch length.

Many quilters want to match thread, usually thinking it will hide mistakes better. The problem with this is you will make MORE mistakes if you match thread because you can't see where you're going!

Think of it like poor Red Riding Hood walking through the forest. What if the forest was psychedelic red and the path was ruby red as well? She wouldn't be able to see the path from the forest, or even herself, in her red jackety/cape thing! She'd be totally lost and the big bad wolf wouldn't even have to bother with eating Grandma, he'd just stalk Red Riding while she was wandering around lost in that crazy red wood and...

Let's just say it won't be pretty!

2. Avoid super bulky seams

For my Crazy Pepper quilt, I stitched Stippling using an All Over Quilting technique. I covered this a good big in Quilt Along #2 - Quilting in Rows as well as How Do I Quilt This Series.

Basically I broke the quilt down into 4 quadrants using rows of stippling, then filled each open quadrant with more rows of the design until each space was filled.

In the process I crossed a lot of seams! Rather than intentionally stitch over tricky areas, like where 4 blocks all matched up at once, I simply avoided these areas. I stitched up to the area, I stitched around them, but I tried not to stitch right through the middle of that seam connection.

This is a great way to not only avoid messing up your design, but it's also a good way to avoid breaking thread. A lot of times a weaker thread will be able to take normal stitching through 3 layers of fabric, but as soon as you add a few seam allowances in the mix, it snaps.

You might notice this as you quilt some this week. Pay attention to WHERE your thread breaks if you're struggling with it. Notice if it breaks right on a seam line or in the middle of a plain fabric area.

I once used a thread that would break the instant I hit an area with seam allowance. For the longest time I thought it was something I was doing wrong to cause the thread to break, then it slowly dawned on me as I stitched a simple quilt that had blocks every 4 inches. This thread literally broke every 4 inches on that quilt! It was so frustrating I remember throwing it across the room at the end of one row and never using it again.

Now for one last detail about seams: let's open the debate about pressing seams.

Many quilters advise us to press seams to one side or the other, not open, because apparently this will weaken the seam if you stitch the quilt in the ditch, or stitch over the seam, and the needle happens to exactly pierce the thread piecing the two blocks together.

For the record - I've never, ever seen this happen, and I've pressed seams open since I started quilting in 2005.

Open seams are more accurate, produce less bulk and layers within the quilt, and are easier to stitch in the ditch. That's three major benefits that all make quilting the quilt much easier!

Most of this issue can be sorted out in the piecing of your quilt. Try reducing the stitch length you piece with to 1.5 - 1.8 on your machine. This smaller stitch length will not only be more accurate, if a single stitch happens to be pierced in the quilting process, it certainly won't undermine the integrity of your quilt.

3. Keep the bulk out of the machine

This sounds a bit impossible, but you can usually find ways to shift any quilt so most of the bulk is either behind the machine or to the left side of it.

When the bulk is all shoved up inside the harp space it can be really difficult to move the quilt as quickly and smoothly as you need to when quilting on a bigger scale. At times I had to make a tough decision: a particular area or direction I was quilting in didn't feel very natural, but if I rotated or moved the quilt, all the weight would be working against me.

In these situations, I would often leave the quilt in the trickier position, stitch a narrow row to get out of the position, then rotate and get comfortable again as soon as possible.

The biggest key here is to understand that you really need to be able to quilt in ALL DIRECTIONS. Stitching from left to right or from the top down can work for smaller quilts, for smaller scale, but when things get big, you might have to work at tricky angles and just make the best of it.

4. Smooth and stretch the borders as you go

The borders of any quilt are going to be tricky if you haven't planned ahead and added 1" to the width on all sides.

Of course, all of my UFOs (and most likely yours too) won't have extra wide borders so we're going to have to carefully stitch to the raw edges of these quilts without creating pleats or ripples in the surface.

The best method here is just to keep things smooth!

Smooth things out with your hands, spread carefully, then hold the quilt top in place with both hands as you quilt right up to the edge of the quilt. I often like to quilt off the edge a few times to lock the top in place so it doesn't roll up on the edges.

(Note - you will see a 1/4" stitch line around the edges in this photo because the binding has already been attached from the back. This stitching was NOT in place while quilting the quilt)

5. You've just got to DO IT!

Getting Crazy Pepper on my machine was an eye opening experience because so many times I've assumed that a plain piece of fabric, or a cheater cloth quilt, is exactly the same as a real quilt.

For the record - they're not!

A real quilt is a REAL quilt and usually has a lot more fiddly things going on that plain fabric or cheater cloth just can't simulate.


A real quilt has seam lines, crazy colors, multiple thicknesses, and piecing issues that a plain piece of fabric just won't have. The only way to know what quilting a real quilt will feel like is to DO IT!

But don't let this intimidate you! No amount of practice is going to make a quilt perfect. You just have to get a quilt top basted, get it on the machine, and figure things out as you go along.

Personally I can say that quilting this quilt was a fun, interesting, and educational experience. It was SO different from what I've done for years and years that at times I struggled to maintain a big scale stipple throughout the quilt.

But I can say this: I definitely enjoy finishing a quilt in 3 hours!

Nothing beats the feeling of taking a UFO quilt top and turning it into a finished quilt. I swear I've moved this quilt around my sewing room at least 20 times over the last few years, and many times I've considered throwing it in the trash just to get it out of my room, out of my way, off my plate.

Every time though, I kept it because I knew it would make my Mother-in-law, Ellen, happy. And just to finish off this post, I'll share with you the story of why it's called Crazy Pepper and why I'm so happy to have it finished in time for Ellen's birthday:

Way back in 2008, Ellen's dog, Pepper got a weird skin rash that caused her to itch all the time. She lost almost all her fur off her hind end and was just plain miserable.

Fortunately Ellen found a solution by giving Pepper a bath almost daily. She started taking her to a pet grooming place and every time Pepper came home, they tied a small scrap of fabric around her neck.

Ellen started saving these scraps for me, all wild colors, crazy prints, and funky styles. Not all were even 100% cotton, but I knew I could still use them to create a foundation pieced crazy quilt.

But once the top was together, how to quilt it? Back in 2008, I was just getting into show quilting on a tiny, dense scale. This certainly didn't seem like the right quilt for that style of quilting.

So I folded up the top and saved it. And saved it. And saved it.

Does this sound familiar?

This weekend as I drove back from Greensboro, I remembered that quilt top and decided enough was enough! It was truly a perfect quilt to finish with stippling because the soft curves and wiggles of this design nicely contrast with all the sharp angles and lines of this funky crazy quilt.

Is this quilt perfect? Absolutely not! But it was created with love, it will be given with love, and that is what truly matters.

Now let's link up so we can see what you did with last week's lesson!





Instructions for Linking Up Your Blog:

1. Write your blog post. Publish it on your blog.

2. Copy the link of the specific blog post. This is not just the link to your blog itself (www.freemotionquilting.blogspot.com), but the link to the specific post: http://freemotionquilting.blogspot.com/2012/01/quilt-along-2-quilting-in-rows.html

3. Click the blue link up button above and paste your link into the box.

Keep in mind that you're posting your progress from LAST week on THIS week's post. This way you have time to watch the lesson, play with the ideas, then post your progress to the next quilt along. I hope that makes sense!

As always, any questions you have, please post them in the comments below or on your blog and I'll answer 5 tomorrow on Question Thursday.

It's high time we shut up and go quilt a UFO!

Leah

Monday, February 20, 2012

More Quilt As You Go Quilts

Last week we learned how to connect quilted pieces together using binding strips, which is my favorite Quilt As You Go method.

But as I said many times in that post, that was certainly on the ONLY way you can do this.

I've actually experimented with Quilt As You Go methods quite a bit from the very beginning of my quilting adventures. For a long time I was intimidated by the idea of quilting an entire quilt because I didn't understand basting and how to get all the layers together without pleats forming.

So for my very first quilt, I pieced 9 patch blocks, then quilt each in the ditch, then connected them together.

This also allowed me to make my first double sided quilt. The front is blue 9 patches, the back is a black and white checkerboard. I guess I was aiming for "overachiever" status with this first quilt...

Unfortunately I hadn't researched a good method for putting the quilted pieces together and got stuck at that point. The blocks were fully quilted to the edges and I knew absolutely NOTHING about binding so I carefully picked out the stitches on the edges, seamed together the blocks from the front, then zigzag stitched the back down. It ended up with a less than perfect finish:

Will this quilt hold together forever? Definitely not. I wouldn't suggest this as a good method for connecting a quilt that is going to be washed often and drug around. An art quilt / wall hanging might be able to get away with a solid satin stitch.

Now for the second Quilt As You Go technique I've played with, I bothered to do a bit more reading and had successfully bound at least one quilt, so I thought I had this whole quilting thing figured out like the back of my hand. LOL!

This giant pink quilt was also my first foray into free motion quilting. 6 panels were quilted separately, then pieced together so from the front, you really can't tell this is quilt was created in pieces.

All I did to connect these panels was to stack them right sides together and run a 1/4" seam down the full seam, leaving all the bulk of both seam allowances to the back.

I then bound the bulk with regular binding strips.

The strips that run horizontal I stitched down to the back of the quilt so they're really not very noticeable. The vertical middle seam, however, was so big and bulky I didn't bother securing it down and as you can see from the photo above, it's quite noticeable and lumpy.

It's certainly not the prettiest finish, and you can definitely feel this when you cuddle up with this quilt.

It took a few more years and a bit more understanding of quilting and binding before I finally found the method I taught last Wednesday by playing with binding strips and simple addition to get the right widths.

I put together this little sampler quilt for the Beginner Free Motion Quilting Fillers DVD. My goal is to create several quilt patterns that are all designed to use this technique to put 24 to 30 inch pieces together. It's on my to-do list at least!

And before you run off thinking this is a "beginner" or "cheater" way of creating a quilt, it's definitely not!

A quilt made in pieces can be just as finely quilted as a quilt made the traditional way in one big piece. I proved that last year when Winter Wonderland won Best Machine Quilting at AQS Knoxville. Did you know this quilt was quilted in pieces?

Each block was quilted separately, then the blocks were connected using 1 inch binding strips on the BACK of the blocks.

To cover the front, I cut wide BIAS binding strips, folded them in half, stitched a seam down the side, then pressed them so the seam allowance was on the flat, bottom side.

Then using a lot of starch, a hot iron, and a heavy hand, I forced those strips into a wavy shape, then secured them on top over the raw edges between the snowflake quilt blocks.

It's basically the same Quilt As You Go technique, just stitched up a notch!

You can learn more about this specific way to connect the blocks together in the Winter Wonderland Quilt Pattern.

Of course, now that I stop to think about it, technically I've also used a Quilt As You Go method to create my Sun and Feathers quilted jacket:

This jacket is fully reversible with red fabric on one side and blue on the other. This was created using a regular Simplicity pattern #5345.

To create this jacket, I copied each piece - back, front, arm - onto a piece of graph paper. On this graph paper I marked not only the outer CUT line for the fabric, but also 5/8" for the STITCH line, and a line 1/2 inside this for the QUILT line. Each of these lines needs to be transferred the top, right side of each piece of the jacket.

I layered and quilted each piece, making sure to stay within the QUILT line at all times.

When all the pieces were quilted, I trimmed each to the CUT line, then pieced them together, making sure all the stitching was falling on the STITCH lines. When putting the pieces together, I only connected the top red fabric and the flannel middle layer.

Once the jacket was together in 1 piece, I trimmed the seam allowances of the flannel and pressed the red fabric open. Here you can see the blue fabric pinned out of the way so it wasn't caught in any of these seams and the red fabric pressed open:

Then it was a simple process of folding the blue fabric over, smoothing it over the red seam allowances. Then the opposite blue side was folded UNDER and hand stitched to secure along the seam line:

The result is a jacked that is 100% reversible, even over the tricky arm areas!

So that's pretty much all the quilts I've created using this technique. If you have a Quilt As You Go quilt you've created and written about on your blog or website, link up that post below so we can all check it out!





Time to shut up and go quilt!

Leah

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Question Thursday #7

It's Question Thursday yet again! This is the day of the week I set aside to look through all my email, comments, and through all your linked up blog posts to find 5 questions to answer.

And guess what? I only found 2 questions this week!

I guess this means I'm moving too slowly? Should we stitch it up a notch and move on to new designs or would you like to stick with Stippling for a few more weeks?

Make sure to share your opinion in the comments below.

Now for the questions:

Pat from Color Me Quilty
has asked a great question about batting:

What type of batting do you normally use?


Do you use different batting for different types of projects? Without doing trapunto, which batting would best show off the quilting in the top block?

I use Quilter's Dream polyester batting almost exclusively. I do have other batting in the studio that I'm trying to use up, so occasionally I'll use something weird, but 99% of the time I'm using either Select or Request thickness Quilter's Dream Polyester.

As for different projects - no, I don't change batting for different projects. A quilt is a quilt is a quilt. And for me at least, I know a quilt comes out nice, and is predictably easy to stitch with this batting.

Of course the one exception is quilted garments. I can't ignore the fact that if you quilted a jacket using normal batting, even the thinnest poly, it would likely come out so puffy you'd look like the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man. For garments I use 100% cotton flannel that has been washed and dried twice in hot water to get the shrink out.

As for what batting creates a super puff similar to trapunto - I have HEARD about using wool batting, but I have not tried it myself so I cannot really say whether it works well or not.

Keep in mind that I'm a crazy nut for trapunto! If I want something puffy, I'm not going to leave it for the fates to grant me good luck with a wool batting. I'm going to quilt that sucker twice and relish every second I get to clip batting away (my favorite part).

For trapunto, I use Quilter's Dream Polyester in the Deluxe thickness for the first layer and Select thickness for the second layer. It always comes out perfect. Always.

Now that I've answered the main question, it's time for a little lecture...

Just like with needles and thread, batting is an opinion driven material, and one that's subject to hot debate.

Many quilters hear that I use polyester batting and thread and don't want to hear another word out of my mouth. Their response usually goes something like this:

HERETIC! How dare you suggest we use something other than COTTON!


Whenever I hear this kind of thing, I always have to ask:

"Have you personally had an issue with either poly batting or poly thread?
"

...and the answer is always:

"No, but I've HEARD that..." which begs the argument:

Shouldn't your opinion should be based on what YOU have actually experienced?!


Get out there and try something NEW! Do you want to create a quilt with a super puff? Get your hands on some wool batting and play with it! A little 20 inch table topper quilt should be more than sufficient to know whether that batting is going to do the job or not.

Are you looking for a batting that will shrink a bit to hide mistakes? Try a cotton or cotton/poly blend with a small amount of shrink. Give it a go with a SMALL project to see what this batting will do before investing a ton of money and time into a bigger project.

Too often I hear quilter's complain "I'm trying out a new batting and I really hate it. It's ruining my project completely." and guess what they decided to test that batting out on? Inevitably it's always a queen to king sized quilt.

That's a really good way to ruin a quilt and hate your life for a LONG time with a batting that works in an unpredictable way.

When I say Test, I mean test and experiment with batting in a scientific way.

Make a list of all the things you want your batting to do. You might want it to:
  • Shrink slightly to hide mistakes.
  • Not shrink at all to keep the quilt flat.
  • Shrink a LOT so the quilt gets a pretty antique look.
  • Drape softly so the quilt is soft and comfy when quilted.
  • Remain stiffer so the quilt looks good on a wall.
  • Very thin and low loft so the quilt is easy to manage in your machine.
  • Super thick with a high loft so the finished quilt is big and puffy.
  • Allow quilting up to 4 or 6 or 8 or 12 inches apart.

This is just a starting list of possible characteristics a batting can have. Sit down a think for a bit about what you want YOUR quilts to look and feel like when they're finished.

When you shop for batting, look at the different packages, write down some names, then go home and Google the companies before buying. Learn more about different batting types from the company itself.

Hint: if the batting company doesn't even have a website, that's a good sign to go with another batting.

Of course, there's always a list of things we DON'T want batting to EVER do:

  • Shift within the quilt - this creates ripples and lumps within the quilt you can feel when you run your hand over it.

  • Beard - Just like guys wake up every morning with fuzz on their chin, terrible battings get out of the washer and are covered with fuzz on the back or front. The batting is literally leaking through the cotton fabric and once it starts, it usually doesn't stop.

  • Smell - I know this sounds weird, but I once bought a batting that stank right out of the bag. I didn't want to risk a quilt that never lost that smell so that batting ended up in the trash.

When you invest in batting, only purchase the smallest size. Many companies are now offering craft size, which is even smaller than crib size, and is a great size to start with.

Cut out a 20 - 24" section of the batting and either use plain fabric or piece together some orphan blocks to create a very small quilt top. Baste and quilt this mini test quilt the exact same way you will baste and quilt your regular quilts.

Finish the edges in some way quickly, then wash and dry the test quilt the same way you will treat your regular quilts.

Take note of what the batting is doing at every step of the game. Ask yourself questions:

Do you like the way the batting feels and acts in the machine? Is it too puffy / not puffy enough? Is the machine liking this material, or wanting to eat it?

Do you like the way the batting feels after washing? Is it draping nicely? Did it shrink as you desired? Is it showing any signs of bearding, shifting, or smelling?

Remember you don't have to go for a gold with each of these little test quilts. It's a test, not a masterpiece, so don't spend an excessive amount of time on each project, otherwise you'll burn out before finding a good batting.

Is it really worth going to this much trouble to find a good batting? Absolutely!

It's no fun to waste money on batting that sucks.

But the only true way to know if something works for you is for YOU to try it. If it doesn't work, tear that batting up into tiny pieces and stuff a doll with it. That way it's not totally gone to waste and make a note of the brand and thickness in a notebook so your lesson will not be forgotten.

Above all, never share an opinion about a particular material unless you've actually experienced it yourself. There seems to be a lot of talking and hearing in the quilting world, but not a lot of experiencing!

Just please don't contribute to someone else's phobia of new materials. We now have awesome bamboo, silk, soy, recycled polyester, and wool battings that all deserve a chance right next to the traditional cotton batting.

That being said, once you've found what works and produces the effects you like, STICK WITH IT!

This is basically where I'm at with batting, thread, and needles. I've had my experimental phase and found what works. For me, Quilter's Dream is the perfect batting and I have no desire to play the field to find something else that also works. What's the point?!

That said, I am keen to try the polyester created from recycled drink bottles. That just sounds cool!

Now it's time to jump off my soapbox so we can get to the next question:

Anne from Anne's Threads asked:

What do you use to mark your quilts?

I must have tried every marker available and I don't think I've ever found the right combination of visibility and remove-ability!

I use a blue Fine Line Water Soluble marking pen for any light colors. This works exceptionally well over white and lighter fabrics.

For darker fabrics lately I've been switching between the Sewline Ceramic Pencils and Fons & Porter Ceramic Pencils in white. I think these are pretty much the same and both work equally well with a thin, noticeable mark that brushes or erases off easily.

Of course, a blue pen or white pencil isn't going to show up well with fabrics like these:

Busy fabrics are really difficult to mark because so many colors and shapes are involved.

In this situation you really have to start looking at your quilts and planning ahead with your quilting. If you plan from the beginning to include marked elements in your quilt, make sure to choose plain, solid, or solid reading fabrics that you know you can make visible marks on.

If you look at a quilt design and decide you don't want to mark it, then you have full freedom of choice with any wild prints or colors you can find.

Keep in mind that marked designs aren't necessary on every quilt. This is the point of having so many filler designs - designs that can fill space on your quilt without marking!

When you bother to mark a design, you're taking an extra step in the process and you should definitely get credit for your work. Marking a design over busy fabric is really pointless because it simply won't show off or stand out as much as it could over simpler fabric.

Whatever you do, make sure to TEST YOUR MARKER before you mark an entire quilt with it!

Also whatever marking device you use, use it throughout your quilt!

I learned this the hard way with a very important quilt The Duchess. Most of the quilt was marked with the Fine Line marker which came out immediately when immersed in water.

But I happened to forget that parts of the quilt had been marked with a different pencil and I didn't erase these marks before dunking the quilt in warm water.

In the end, the chacopel pencil marks NEVER came out because the warm water heat set them into the fabric. It was a terrible lesson to learn on a quilt this big, but it's a lesson I've NEVER forgotten!

So that pretty much sums up this Question Thursday! Again, share your opinion about whether we should move on with more new designs or stick with stippling for a few more weeks.

If we stick with stippling, here's a few fun projects we'll work on together:

Time to shut up and quilt!

Leah Day
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