Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Duchess Reigns #3 - Full Design

It's been a few weeks since I updated you guys about The Duchess Reigns and the progress I've been making on this huge wholecloth project.

Last time I posted, I'd just solidified my design for the center medallion.  This pretty goddess / griffin / bird:

Going along with the griffin design, I created this lion head element:

I was also pretty hung up about suns being a major element of this quilt.  I started trying to fit them into the borders as well as the center:

Here's the hard part about design: what to keep and what to chuck.  The first series of drafts of this quilt were like Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, though I might have a sink in there somewhere, I'm not really sure!

It's really easy to go overboard with a design, especially when you've had a few years to really build up a supply of signs and symbols you're dying to use.  At one time I was trying to cram a triforce from Zelda, spirals, flames, celtic knots, and tree symbols all in the same quilt.

Obviously, all these things are pretty, but they can't all work in one quilt.

So I began pulling elements and picked just two to fill the borders with: the lion heads and flames.  Even with things simplified down, it still had to go through several editions.

True, any one of these quilts could be finished and be beautiful, but I didn't really LOVE them.  This might seem picky or ridiculous, but in order to spend several months on a quilt, you really do need to be passionate about the project, and really love every aspect of the design.

Finally I pinpointed the problem with all of these designs: they shrunk the goddess too much.  She needs to be bigger and actually scaled so the lion heads aren't monstrously bigger than her.  A bit of resizing and things suddenly began to work:

A bit more fiddling was still in order to make the design right.  With this quilt, I'm not rushing this design process.  I've learned by now that rushing just leads to a disappointing experience, and I'd rather take the time at the beginning to really think this whole thing through before taking the first stitch.

As for the design process itself, I've used a combination of drawing on paper and computer design using Serif Draw Plus.  At first, I worked with the design on a large scale in the computer, but eventually found this to be too difficult.  Even the computer program gets glitchy when working with 80 inches of wiggly designs!

So shrunk down to a smaller scale, everything works better and then can be resized to the final pattern size, which can be whatever I feel like.  This quilt could easily be 45 inches or 400 inches.  I've settled on 80 inches and hopefully it will shrink a bit in the process:

Even after printing out the full sized drawing, I still see areas that I need to change.  I also see a need to plan the colors and fillers for this quilt, as these two elements could make or break the final effect the quilt has.

While it might seem like a slow progress, it's actually very fun!  The trick is not to get too bogged down with the millions of choices (we do have 365 + free motion fillers after all), but to instead pick the designs and colors that will fit and fill most effectively for the area.

So what's the next step?  I believe The Duchess Reigns needs a few more design tweaks, but I think I'll be able to make these on the large master pattern rather than printing her out all over again.  Sometimes things are easier to work with on a larger scale anyway because they're easier to visualize.

Once the design is 100% solid, it will be time to start playing with fabric and thread.  I can't wait!

Let's go quilt,

Leah

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Question Thursday #20

It's Question Thursday and since we've started a brand new project with modern quilt blocks, we have lots of fun questions to work through today!

Let's start with a great question from Anne Marie in the comments of yesterday's post:

Can this be quilted by marking the backing and having the quilt top underneath?

Absolutely!  If the sight of the blocks and background is distracting to you, baste the quilt with the quilt top on the bottom and the backing on the top.  This way all the pins will be on the back side of the quilt and you can easily quilt from this side with no distracting elements.

The one thing you'll need to watch out for is your thread starts, stops, and any grumbles from your machine.

A grumble is when your machine coughs, snorts, grinds, or any other unpleasant, unusual sound.  This generally means your thread has just done something super funky.  And super funky stuff ALWAYS shows on the back of your quilt!

In this case, if you've reversed the quilt the front is the back during quilting so you need to be extra careful about these warning sounds from your machine.

If it makes a funny sound, stop, break your thread, and flip the quilt over.  Use a seam ripper to rip out a birds nest, if there is one, then pull back the threads carefully to get enough to hide and start stitching again.

Now let's answer a few questions about this modern quilt from Mary at Can't Stop Stitchin':

Can I really piece this block with different sized strips?

Full question:  The first strip I put on was a width of  about 4 inches, and the second one about 2.5 inches… Wonder how much this will matter later on when putting the top together?  or does it not matter at all?  will find out next week when I put it together...

Yes, it really is fine to use different size of strips!  In the end, you're going to square all the blocks to a single size for the easiest construction process.  If you're really worried about it, use wide (3 - 4 inch) strips and you'll definitely finish with huge blocks you can cut down as much as you want.

Try not to think about this project too much or make it super difficult.  The point is to disengage your need to control and dictate every step of the process.  Let go!  Kick back! I promise the quilt you end up with will be one of a kind and beautiful in it's own way.

 Next question from Mary:

Is there such thing as too much Wonkiness?

Full question:   If I should apply a little "wonky" as I apply the first strip? and if I should do it again with the second strip?  Will that be too much wonkiness to the block?  I did some this way, so we will see when it goes together…When I square up, should I square up with more wonky too?  Will that be too much fun/wonkiness ?  We will find out, because I did this to some of the blocks as well.

No!  There's definitely no such think as too much wonkiness!  Have fun, play, and try not to over-think this process.  Perfection is not the key here.  Creation - forming a quilt top from basic elements in a speedy way - that is the key.

 Now let's answer a question from Pat at Color Me Quilty:

Are there FMQ designs that are better left to longarm quilters and others that are better suited to domestic machine FMQ quilters? 

Is there an optimal size to the design? I've noticed that a lot of your designs are smaller fillers, but I've also seen some of your work with feathers that are quite large scale. While I realize that practice will help smooth out some of my line work, are there tricks to getting really smooth lines or am I better off going for an "organic (read wobbly)" look and staying with smaller designs? 
 
This is a bit of an opinionated subject, but I'm going to try to be as fair as possible with this one.

To be honest, yes, there are probably some designs that are easier to stitch with a longarm because you are moving the machine and able to form steady smooth curves with a sweeping movement, verses having to stop and stop for the limited size of a home sewing machine.

However, please keep in mind the learning curve necessary to master a longarm.  Loading a quilt into a frame, getting all the layers properly set up, achieving good tension on your machine - these things might not sound like a big deal, but they are totally new, totally different on a longarm frame system than on a domestic sewing machine.

So there's a learning curve involved here.  I hope we can all agree on that ;-)

As far as optimal size, I know it's easier to quilt on a tiny, micro scale on a domestic machine than it is to quilt that way on a longarm.  To achieve that type of control, you generally need to weigh down the machine and install micro handles.  On a domestic, it's easier to move the quilt in small sections at a time, so you don't need to add anything special to the machine.

Likewise, it's easier to quilt bigger on a longarm because you can make those bigger, wider movements with more speed and efficiency.

The biggest thing to realize in all my ramblings here is there is NO BETTER OPTION.  Both longarms and domestic machines have good sides and bad sides.

So the only solution is to master the machine you own right now!  The more you stitch, the better you will get.

When it comes to quilting long, fluid, perfectly curving lines, this definitely can be a challenge on a domestic sewing machine.  Pat described her wobbles and wiggles as "organic" which is quite true.  This is what happens when quilting if you're not used to stopping and starting in a fluid way to maintain a steady line.

But with more practice and experience, this will quickly become second nature.  You will know where to stop stitching instinctively before your hands lose control over the quilt.  You will move your hands to the right place and start stitching without making those little wiggles and subtle movements, and you will increase and decrease speed in a way that hides the stop and start completely.

While this kind of second nature, intuitive quilting might not be happening right this second, it will happen eventually.  You just have to be patient and accept the organic wobbles and wiggles when they happen, but also notice and enjoy the smooth, fluid quilting when it happens as well!

Finally let's finish up with some questions from Danielle at Fresh off the Spool:

Have you ever doubled up on batting? 

Full question: I have noticed a few bloggers mentioning that they use 2 layers on quilts. Would this be harder to FMQ and would you need a heavy duty needle? I would think It would make for a warmer quilt, and puffier quilting. Do you have any thoughts on the subject?


I'll be totally honest here: I have never, ever doubled the batting on a quilt.  I've just never had a need to do this as I don't prefer puffy, thick quilts.

As for making it harder to quilt, 2 battings will logically make the quilt thicker, which could impact your darning foot.  Make sure to adjust it to make it sit higher over all those layers.

If anyone else has experience with using 2 battings in one quilt, please leave some tips or share your experience with Danielle in the comments below!

Now it's time for me to hop off the computer because I have 40 sheets of paper to tape together to create the new duchess quilt!  More details this weekend!


Time to shut up and go quilt,


Leah Day

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Quilt Along #20 - Modern Quilting Design

Have you gotten on your sewing machine this week and pieced up a stack of angular modern blocks?  I really hope you have!

This week we're going to put all those blocks together to create a quilt top, then mark a design that will break the top into many sections for quilting, and then quilt a few of these lines to get the quilt secured.

Yes, there's quite a lot to do this week so let's get started with the video:


Difficulty Level - Beginner.

Design Family - Foundational.

In this video, I used Pinmoors to baste my modern quilt top because they're easier to put into and take out of the quilt and don't tear up my hands. Click here to learn more about this awesome basting tool!

Now let's break up this tutorial into 3 parts: Construction, Marking, and Quilting so it's easier to digest.  While it might seem like a lot to do, you definitely can get through all these steps in a few hours.

I. Construction.

In the video I really didn't have time to fully explain how to construct your modern quilt.  Here's the most easy, simplified way to put your L shaped blocks together:

1. Cut all blocks and background blocks a single size.

I choose 7 inches, so I cut all my blocks this size, plus about 10 background blocks (just 7 inches of plain white fabric) and about five 7 inch wide strips.  Everything being the same width will make it much easier to put it all together!

2. Arrange your blocks and background.

I'm giving you permission to play here, not torture yourself!  If you tend to be like me and over-analyze a quilt design and endlessly arrange and re-arrange blocks until you're so frustrated you're ready to throw it all in the trash...STOP!

Take a deep breath and throw the blocks on the ground and just go with wherever they land.

 Now to make the process easier, shift the blocks slightly so they line up with your background blocks and strips like this:

3. Piece together in a logical format.

Most quilts are put together by sewing blocks together into strips, then sewing the strips together into the finished top.  Again, don't go overboard with this!  If your strips end up finishing at different lengths, slice off the longer one.  There's no need to get obsessive about pieces being cut and pieced precisely with this quilt.

So now you have a finished quilt top!  I'll warn you, these are a bit addictive and you might end up making a few more than you expected.  So far I've pieced 3:

This last one is quilted with the design we're going to learn next!

II. Marking.

Now let's talk about the quilting design!  For this quilt, we want to play and experiment with all 5 of the designs we've learned so far this year on a larger scale so the quilt will finish super soft and cuddly.

Of course, there are millions of ways to use multiple designs over a quilt top.  You could pick any one of them and quilt it over the whole top, you could pick 4 designs and quilt 1 in each quadrant, you could quilt a different design in each colored square and a single design over the background.

But for this particular quilt, let's learn how to quilt all 5 designs in a totally random, totally free-form way!

The inspiration for this style comes from Zentangles, which involves first drawing a "string" which is simply a series of lines and wiggles that break up a space into smaller chunks.

Rather than a string, I like to call this a Zen Break for quilting and here's a couple different ideas:

Basically all you do is ignore all the blocks and design you've just pieced and mark your Zen Break lines over the quilt top.  These can be giant wiggles, loops, zig zags, or any other type of line you can think of!

The point here is to break the quilt up into manageable sections that can each be filled with different designs. 

Coincidentally, Cindy Needham taught something a bit similar this month in Sew Cal Gal's Free Motion Quilting Challenge.  You can check out her "divide and conquer" method for mixing feathers with many filler designs right here.

When marking your Zen Break, make sure to use a marking pen or pencil you trust.  For this quilt, I used a Sewline marking pencil, but if it was lighter fabric, I would use a Fine Line water soluble blue pen.

Also watch how close your lines get together.  You really don't want to create a lot of tinsy tiny areas, which will be tricky to fill with large scale designs.

Once you've marked your Zen Break, it's time to baste your quilt!  To review how to baste your quilt with Pinmoors, check out the video from our wholecloth tutorial right here.

III. Quilting.

With a marked Zen Break and basted quilt, it's time to get on the machine and start quilting!  Start in the center of the quilt and follow a line all the way to the edge.  You may want to review the tutorial on quilting on a line right here.

Yes, I believe you should quilt from the center to the outside edges, but if you don't think it matters, quilt these lines however it works easiest for you!

Once all the lines are quilted, take some time to hide all those thread breaks inside the middle layer of the quilt.

Now to make these lines stand out a bit better, and to learn a new awesome quilting technique, let's echo them all!

Echoing is a simple quilting technique where you stitch a set distance away from a previous line of quilting.

In this situation, you do not mark the echo line, but instead eyeball the distance between the line before and the line you're quilting and try to keep the distance between the two consistent.

Echoing is something that looks very easy, but can actually be quite challenging to master.  It takes time to be able to "see" the distance and program your hands to move the quilt and keep the lines properly spaced.

As with all things with this quilt, don't worry if it's not perfect!  In fact, it may look even better if it's not perfect!

Just stitch your lines, echo them all, remove tons of pins, and then next week we'll begin filling each of these sections with our 5 independent designs: Stippling, Sharp Stippling, Zippling, Circuit Board, and Loopy Line.


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!


Time to Shut Up and Go Quilt,

Leah Day

Monday, June 25, 2012

Garment Sewing???

There's something about the hot days of the summer that makes me want to sew clothing.  I'm not exactly sure what it is, but I just have a hankering to pull out some patterns and piece up a new dress.

I've picked up these patterns recently and yes, my Halloween costume is already set in stone as the Princess from Super Mario 3D land, which I'll modify from the Cinderella pattern on the right.

While I'm going to be a princess from a video game, I'm not exactly sure what my companions are going to be.  James keeps declaring he wants to be Mario (which would be super cute with my costume), but then changes his mind to be Darth Vader or a Stormtrooper. 

Not exactly sure how that's going to go, but we have several more months to argue about it between now and then!

As for fabric, some of these patterns call for knits, which can be very interesting to work with, especially if you're used to working with only 100% cotton all the time.

 Personally I've taken a tip from Lyric Kinard to heart: when working with any weird fabric, spend time torturing it first.

So all these pretty knits are going into the washer in HOT water, where they will be beaten mercilessly, then I'll wash them again in cold water, then I'll wash them all one last time in warm water just to make sure I've done the job properly.

Why all this washing at various temperatures?

Let's be honest: in my house a quilt is treated with the reverence and respect it deserves.  Clothing, however, is not.

Anytime I piece a garment, I know it's going to eventually end up thrown in the dirty laundry pile, where it might be sorted into a pile of similar colors...or it might not.  It might be washed at a optimal temperature and setting for the material's delicate nature...or it might not.

Really all bets are off once this garment is finished, so it better be able to stand up to anything!

Another reason for systematic fabric torture is to remove any shrink to the fabric, and to also let it know who's boss.  I'd rather it reveal it's cards as a funky, finicky print with weird shrinking and sqewing issues right now, rather than later after I've spent 5 hours piecing it into a pretty dress.

I'd also like to get ALL the excess dye out now because as a pretty red shirt, it may just be tossed in with a load of whites.  It sounds bad, but in my house, this happens all the time!

So after thoroughly torturing this fabric, I'm looking forward to creating some pretty new dresses and shirts for the summer.

Let's go quilt!

Leah


Sunday, June 24, 2012

More Modern Block Ideas

I got to thinking about the modern blocks we're piecing this week.  They're very simply a combination of a wonky square with two long strips to create an L shaped block.

So what if we start with another shape, like a hexagon?

No, this isn't a perfect hexagon, but a wonky shape with 6 sides. Imagine making a Grandmother's flower garden quilt, but with wonky hexies instead!

And what if we started with a triangle?

 Of course, these odd shapes like triangles and hexagons are going to be more difficult to put together in the finished quilt because there are more funky angles to consider.   By far the easiest way to work is square or rectangular because the shapes will come together in straight lines:

What's really wonderful is just how big a quilt you can create out of a very small amount of fabric.  All of these blocks were pieced with a very small handful of scraps.  I'm planning to put them all together this afternoon to create a pretty baby quilt, but this quilt could easily be much bigger if I added more white background fabric.

This also works with much smaller pieces too.  By disengaging the need to create a perfect, matchy matchy block, I can definitely see myself busting through my scrap stash very quickly!

Let's go quilt (or piece a massive number of wonky blocks)!

Leah

Friday, June 22, 2012

Let there be Light!

It seems like I can't let a week go by without fiddling with some aspect of my sewing rooms!  This week I added a new light:

You can compare the light output of this new light with the older one on the left.  It was a hot halogen fixture I installed back in 2008, but the bulbs have either shorted out or burnt out and they were so ridiculously expensive, that fixture was always a problem.

The new light is 4 ft long and filled with 4 fluorescent lamps!  Thanks to Josh's knowledge of lighting for his fish tanks he made sure to select "daylight" lamps which seriously pack a bright punch.  Here's the immediate difference in my photographs:

Old lights
New light
When it comes to installing a new fixture like this, yes, it might be a good idea to contact an electrician if you absolutely don't know what you're doing.  OR you can go to your library and look for a book on basic wiring where you can learn the simple steps of changing a light fixture or replacing an old switch or socket.

What I like the most about electrical work is how logical it all is.  Everything is color coded: black wires, white wires and bare or green grounding wires.  So long as you don't go mixing up the colors, you're going to be okay.

While this isn't for everyone, I'm always looking for any way we can save a the money and time waiting on an electrician to come over because they never exactly show up on cue! All told the light and new lamps cost less than $75.00, which is totally worth it in the amount of light they're now generating for this room.

When I posted the photo above on facebook, it generated a lot of questions about where this room is and what I use it for.

This room is our basement kitchen, which you've seen the other half in my dyeing photo:

It is a pretty big room, but it's very awkward.  The ceiling is very low in one section for the heating and cooling vents, the way the hall connects into the room doesn't make much sense, and the floors are original horrible brown tile, and....well I can obviously go on and on! 

It's not a perfect looking space with high ceilings and gorgeous windows, but it is functional and big, which is far more important.

Over the years I've fiddled around with it quite a bit to find a good setup for working here.  In truth, we've never been able to budget for me to have a full 100% remodel of this room, so I've always made do with small $50-$100 changes at a time.

So what do I use this room for?  It's primarily a studio for preparing and cutting fabric.  I have a large cutting mat that stretches over part of the tables, and large pressing surfaces that can be also laid over the tables.

The tables themselves are also useful for laying out large quilt patterns, marking using the light boxes, and basting and sometimes blocking.  

Up until now the biggest issue in this room has been light.  Low ceilings are the bane of good lighting as they cause some really weird shadows.  Now with the new florescent fixture in place, I can actually SEE and it's making an enormous difference when using the room.

When it comes to any sewing or quilting space, my best advice is to make do with what you have, but always have an eye for what will make it better.  I keep a little file in my computer of different ideas that I see at places like IKEA, Lowes, and Walmart.  IKEA is probably the most dangerous as that store seems to be designed with quilters in mind!

I play a game with myself when I find something interesting and useful.  I budget out the whole project: if it's new tables, how much do they cost?  Will I need new screws or other hardware?  How much do the legs cost?  I break it all down very carefully because it's easy to overlook expenses in the rush and excitement to change something. 

Why spend so much time and energy thinking about this kind of thing?  Because a space can always be better, more functional, more useful.  Things don't have to stay the way you find them!

When I was a kid, the family sewing machine was kept in a horrible old cabinet that never felt "right" and was always awkward to use.  This entire piece of furniture was huge and bulky and there never seemed to be a good place for it in the house.  It always ended up shut up in a corner with no light and no electricity so it couldn't even be used.

Finally when I was in high school, I removed that machine from the cabinet and suddenly, it became the most useful tool in the house!  I could put it on the kitchen table where there was light and electricity and sew through a project and put it away.  It would be years before I set up a machine in a table again, or had a dedicated sewing space, but that experience taught me that change is not just good, it's essential.

If something is not working in your sewing area - CHANGE IT!  

Think about what needs to happen to make it better, budget for the change, then make it happen.  I promise, you will be a much happier quilter and your sewing ability will likely improve as well!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Question Thursday #19

It's time for Question Thursday and so far it doesn't seem like my Modern Block instructions were too confusing!  Yay!

Personally I find teaching piecing FAR more difficult than teaching free motion quilting, but that's probably just because I haven't done much of it.  I really hope all your blocks come together easily and super wonky so we can put them together in a fantastic quilt next week.

Now let's see what questions have cropped up in the last week.  From Pat at Color Me Quilty:

Although it probably isn't common to FMQ without a backing, how do you hide your thread tails. Do you just pull them to the back?

Ah!  This is one of the reasons I love trapunto and reverse shadow trapunto and other weird techniques that allow me to get away with bad behavior when it comes to loose threads.

Whenever you quilt without a backing, no, you don't need to hide your threads with a cheater needle.  Instead pull them to the back (batting side) of the piece and tie a knot.  Make sure it's a super secure knot, then cut your threads about 1 inch long.


Of course, when quilting with water soluble thread, you can also get away with VERY bad behavior by just clipping the ends off completely (no knot at all) because these threads aren't designed to stay in anyway. 

When it comes to quilting without a backing, no, this isn't terrible for your machine so long as your batting isn't falling apart with lint and plugging up your machine.  You guys know I tend to always use poly batting and this has never been a problem to use directly over the machine. 

Cotton, on the other hand, you might want to watch.  Just remember to open all those covers on your machine and clean it out every once and awhile so it doesn't totally lock up with lint.

Next let's cover a super important question from Lisa at iQuilt:

 Why are the edges of my quilts wavy?

Full Question: I still need to learn what I am doing wrong or how to fix my wavy edges.  Is it a quilting issue?  Am I a bad measurer?  Do I need to square my quilts better?  Probably it's all of the above.

Photo from Lisa's iQuilt Blog right here.
This is one of those things that can drive you nuts, and it certainly caused me quite a few headaches over the years

Personally, I believe a lot of waviness is caused from pulling or tugging on the edges of the quilt at any time during the construction process.

Please keep in mind that fabric is very fluid.  It is an organic substance and very sensitive.  Unfortunately by the time we get a quilt basted, all careful handling of it goes out the window.  It's like we think by having the quilt top together, or by having pins in it, it's suddenly bulletproof.

Even when picking up a quilt, I never just grab the edges and carry it around and hold it up.  I always try to fold a quilt up, carry it to where it needs to go, and support the weight while I'm hanging it on a design wall. 

The edges are the most sensitive part of the quilt, even if they have been cut on the straight grain of the fabric because they are supporting all the weight of the whole quilt.

From the look of Lisa's pretty little quilt, I believe most of the waviness might have happened while you applied the binding to the edges of the quilt.

It's SO easy to pull on the binding while applying it.  A good way to prevent yourself from doing this is to let go of the binding completely and DON'T pin it to the quilt before binding.  Instead only touch it to move it into place and keep it in line with the edge of the quilt.  The less you touch it, the less likely it will be pulled and distort the edges of a quilt.

As for sorting out waviness created in the quilting, the best possible solution is blocking. While it's time consuming, and can take up lots of space, it's really the only way to ensure a totally flat, totally perfect finish.

Blocking also makes the binding process easier because squaring up the finished quilt is much easier, and the edges have been stiffened slightly in the process.  Your chances of pulling the edges out of whack is much less.

Also keep in mind that a quilt isn't a canvas painting.  Even with blocking, careful application of binding, and extremely careful handing, you will likely see some rippling in the edges of your quilts.  This is normal, and yes, if you really want to be fastidious about it, you can block 2 times (1st before binding, and 2nd after).

Honestly if a quilt is destined for a bed or the couch or to be drug around by a toddler, I don't worry too much about wavy edges.  Give it a year or two and that quilt will be so nicely worn in and soft, those edges won't matter a bit.

Now let's answer one last question from Becky at The Thompsons:

What's the best way to maneuver in the corners with these loops? 

Photo taken from right here on Becky's Blog The Thompsons 
 Yep, this can be a bit tricky, but the good news is there's absolutely no WRONG way to do this. 

Yes, if you want to be absolutely perfect about it, you could mark some loops in the corners of your quilt just to make the area easier. 

Or you can just wing it.  Here I've sketched two options:

If you're stitching into the corner and are falling on an inside loop, create a little guy right on the corner of the block, then rotate the block and start stitching along the next side.  You'll leave a little open space in the corner, but it looks okay because the design is still consistent.

If you come into the corner and you're falling on an outside loop (right drawing) make a bigger loop to fill up that corner completely, then swing around to start the next side.

With a little practice this will make sense and as you come into the corner you can slow down and eyeball the area to get an idea of where to go next. 

Personally I didn't even notice the corners of Becky's block at all. The little lacy design was such a nice border, it was the edges that caught my eye, not the corners because they look so cute!

Well that's it for today!  I'm heading into the studio to clean up and install a new light fixture.  No more hot halogens allowed!

Let's go quilt,

Leah

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Quilt Along #19 - Piecing Modern Quilt Blocks

It's time for a new Quilt Along and this week we're NOT free motion quilting!

Instead we're going to start piecing a fun, funky modern quilt top.  Josh has named this quilt the PoMo Angles Quilt, and that name was just silly enough for me to fall in love with it!

The first step is to gather your fabric.  You will need:

1. Background fabric: About 1 to 2 yards of one color of fabric.  This could be a solid, this could be a fabric that reads solid (batik), this could be a large pile of scraps, this could be an old window curtain.

Yardage will be easier to work with, but if you're willing to work harder, a scrap stash could definitely work!

Cut this fabric into strips between 2.5 - 4 inches wide. 

2. About 15 - 30 squares of some other color.  You can cut these around 6 to 7 inches, or you can cut them bigger or smaller, depending on your mood.

As you can see, this materials list isn't very exact.

The piecing instructions that follow will also not be exact.

Your finished blocks will not be square or perfect or exact in any way.  That's what trimming and squaring is for ;-)

Understand going into this project that you are traveling down the Road of Wonky where Imperfection is not only your friend, it's your BEST friend.  Let's push our edge to create something new and fun and without all the typical rules of matchy matchy blocks and perfect seams!

Of course, the best place to start is with a video:


 Here's the basic steps to piecing your modern L shaped block:

1. Piece a strip of your background fabric to one side of each square.

2. Press the seam however you like and square off one side.

3. Piece another strip of the background fabric to a perpendicular side of each square.

4. Square up the blocks to one single size (i.e: 7 inches, 4 inches, 10 inches, etc).  Feel free to play with the angle of your ruler to make the inside square super wonky!

That's it!  Try not to obsess or over-think this process.  Just sew on the strips and then square up the blocks to create simple wonky L shaped blocks like these:


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!

Time to Shut Up and Go Quilt,

Leah Day

Monday, June 18, 2012

Duchess Reloaded #2 - Center design

All week I've fiddled around with the new Duchess quilt design and come to realize that I really don't want to create a carbon copy of the original.

In truth: I want a totally new quilt design.

This is a hard truth to swallow. First off, the original design is quite nice and has many good qualities and it would be really great to have this design in a finished quilt that isn't falling apart.  More on that story here.

But the truth is, the original design just isn't doing it for me.  I spent a day fiddling around with the center and came up with this:

Just in case you're in need of a comparison, here's the original:

Yep, that's about as much like the original as mozzarella cheese is like a seam ripper.  Still, I love this new goddess!  She's powerful and beautiful, as I like all my girls to be, but she's also pushing the edge of fantasy with her griffin legs and feathered wings.

Still, this was just the first draft and I was still trying to make certain elements (like her weird pomegranate hat) work in the design.  I even considered axing her vase, but ultimately decided it needed to stay in with a few modifications.

If you're wondering about the design process, it's actually very simple: I sit at my light box with paper, pencil, eraser, and various rulers and guides and draw and fiddle until I'm happy with 1/2 of the image.

Why only 1/2?  Because she is perfectly symmetrical down the center, all I have to do is fold over the paper in the middle, and the second half can be traced from the first half.  No, tracing is not against the rules, it's downright essential for achieving a perfectly symmetrical figure.

4 years ago, I worked on the large, full sized image on huge pieces of graph paper.  These days I work very small on a standard sheet of paper (8.5" x 11") then scan the image into my computer and resize it to any size I want.  This is far easier, and allows for endless possibilities when it comes to using this design.

When I say "fiddle" I really mean it.  There's nothing too technical about doodling on paper, layering it with other bits of paper, drawing the nice parts, erasing the bad parts.  The trick is to let the lines come and not get too judgmental.

It's really easy to get stuck on a line or section because it took a lot of time to put together.  Sometimes you have to accept that an element doesn't work and needs the ax, and you have to be ruthless about it.

So after several days of playing, I've finally settled up on this:

I know at first glance it appears I have removed all the lovely feathers from the goddess's wings.  In actual fact, they will still be in the finished quilt, but I'm leaving the area open for free form feathers rather than trying to design each one exactly on the pattern:

What I've done is deleted the feathers themselves, but drawn in a guideline for where they should reach TO.

This is the space they should fill up on the quilt.  When it comes time to quilt this section, I will mark the boundary line, then quilt free form feathers into the space.

No, the two sides will not be perfectly symmetrical.  The feathers could differ wildly on both sides, it will really depend on my mood when I quilt them.  The space the feathers FILL will be symmetrical, but the feathers themselves will not be.

Now if this feather thing makes absolutely no sense, don't worry!  After we work through our modern quilt project and stitch through a few new designs, we're going to return to the Heart and Feather Wholelcloth project and this time play with this idea of free form feathers.

Hopefully by that time I'll be at the same stage on the duchess and be able to show you many neat ideas for using feathers without marking, but still achieving somewhat symmetrical results.

Now with this pretty girl designed, it's time to start working on the borders and background of this fun quilt!

Let's go quilt (or fiddle with designs!)

Leah

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Question Thursday #18

It's Thursday and time to answer your questions for the week.  There seems to be a lot of specific machine questions, which are always fun, so let's start with a question from Marelize from Stitch by Stitch:

Why did bobbin washers make my machine run worse?

Full Question:  I use a Bernina 180 Artista, and up to now I have had little problems free motion quilting, but after I put in the bobbin washers I broke two new needles minutes after replacing them.  Am I using it wrong?  What I did was, removed the little silver thingy that was in the bobbin, and replaced it with the bobbin washer and started quilting.  Should I have put that silver thingy back after I had put in the bobbin washer?



Excellent question, Marelize!  Personally I've heard two conflicting reports with using little genie magic bobbin washers when you have a spring bobbin.

1. From a Bernina dealer, I once heard to NEVER use bobbin washers in a spring bobbin.  She didn't give a reason why, didn't clarify her opinion, and seemed to think it was heretical to even suggest using another tool in a machine.  I'm still not sure what her reasoning was, if she had one.


2. Personal experience - I used bobbin washers in the bobbin case of the Juki TL 98QE, which also had a spring.  I left the spring inside, placed the bobbin washer on top, wound the bobbin on top of that like normal, and this was the only way I managed to create halfway decent looking stitches on that machine (it was a finicky monster).



Is this wrong?  No, I don't think so, but it is my opinion based on my experience with the Juki. The best thing to do is to try it both ways on your machine - both spring in and spring out, both washer in and washer out, and see what looks the best.  Think of it like a scientific experiment!  Test and try it and make your own conclusion!


Yes, I honestly love little genie magic bobbin washers, and yes, I sell them in the quilt shop.  Many people might think that I'm biased in their favor because I make money from selling them.


But here's something I've learned from being a quilter, knitter, crocheter, spinner, wood turner, and beadworker: no single tool works for EVERYONE.  


This is why we have so many tools!  If one single set of metal knitting needles can get the job done, why do we have knitting needles made of exotic woods, acrylic, in short sizes and long sizes, and in every color of the rainbow?  Because we're all different people who like different things.


Bobbin washers have so far worked wonders for me in 5 machines, but I have no doubt I will find a machine one day that they wreck havoc with.  I accept this because I know there are no absolutes in any craft.


As to that Bernina dealer, she also started hemming and hawing about "voiding warranty" if washers were used with spring bobbins.  Just in case I get some nasty threatening a lawsuit, let me finish this up with a disclaimer:

Read your manual.  If it says using bobbin washers in the bobbin will void your warranty, then it will void your warranty, and you'll need to factor that into your decision to try them or not.  I'm not responsible for your machine being destroyed because of a single piece of thin Teflon!


With that rant out of the way, let's check out another machine question from Pat at Color me Quilty:



Why doesn't this foot work as well?

Full question: So my question for Leah today has to do with feet and pressure: On this little machine, I have a typical generic FMQ foot.  When I FMQ with my machine, the fabric doesn't glide under the foot, (I am using a supreme slider). The foot seems to hold the fabric down for a second, making my quilting choppy. It seems to me, I remember reading about how you did something with the spring and/or little bar at the top of the foot. Would fixing the foot help with this problem or is it a pressure setting on my machine?



This is an excellent question Pat!  I've actually been meaning to share an article on this topic because it's so important for free motion quilting.

Here's the deal: your quilting foot will make or break your ability to make pretty stitches in free motion.

This is a sad truth because about 99% of all FMQ feet are terribly designed.  In the case of Pat's generic foot above, that foot in particular is a monster on the machine.

Here's all the things that are wrong with this foot:

1. Height - Maybe the designer who first created this foot had had too much to drink with lunch when he (or she) sat down to sketch out this spring loaded monstrosity.  Or maybe they just didn't care to actually do math.

Regardless, they never bothered to actually measure and find the correct height the foot should rest at when free motion quilting.  True, the proper height of the foot can change depending on how thick your quilt is (high loft verses low loft batting and layers of applique can make for a thick quilt), but they could have at least made an attempt to find the right resting height.

Instead that designer, let's call him Lazy Bob, decided to make the foot rest very low.  Worse than that, he decided to back up the low height with a spring which forces the foot down with pressure.

Can anything fit under this foot without getting squished?!
2. Needle Bar Hitter - Bob might have been lazy, but he at least knew enough that if the foot rested too low all the time, a quilter would never be able to move the quilt at all, thereby making the foot useless.

So he also designed the most annoying feature in the entire world: the needle bar hitter.  This little jutting piece of metal is designed to rest over your needle bar.  Every time your needle comes up, the needle bar rises and hits this piece, and lifts the foot up.

The foot is lifted because the needle is in the highest position.
The idea sounds pretty good on paper: the foot will rest very low when the needle is down.  You can't move the quilt when the needles is down (unless you're breaking needles), so it doesn't matter if the foot squishes your quilt during this time.  The the needle lifts, which causes the foot to lift, so your quilt isn't being squished, so you can move it a bit, until the needle drops again.

Yes, this sounds okay on paper.  Unfortunately it is a total disaster in reality.

The main issue is just how low the foot rests when the needle is down.  It is literally squishing the snot out of your quilt.  Because of the spring, this is heavier pressure than just a plastic foot resting on your quilt - it's actively exerting downward force.

When the needle bar rises, it unfortunately rises too high. Suddenly you've gone from a squished quilt to 0 control whatsoever.  It's very easy, especially at low speed, to take massive stitches because you have virtually no control over how much you can move the quilt.

What also stinks about this foot is the location of the Needle Bar Hitter - if it was lower it might actually work better.  As it is right now, the needle has to lift into the absolute highest position for the foot to lift.

The needle is out of the quilt, but the foot is still squishing downwards
This creates a condition I call the Hop-Squish Syndrome.  The foot lifts and allows you a hop of movement, then drops back down to squish the quilt.

The only possible way to make this foot work realistically is to stitch VERY VERY VERY fast.  Only at high speed will it produce decent looking stitches, but if you're a beginner or you're not comfortable with the design you're quilting, how in the world are you going to quilt that fast?!

Fortunately, this foot is fixable.  While Lazy Bob might have been a bozo when it comes to designing a generic darning foot, at least his work can be improved on and made to work properly.

So here's the steps to fixing that generic darning foot:

1. Kill the needle bar hitter - Tired of the Hop-Squish Syndrome?  Wishing you could quilt without the accompanying jackhammer of the needle bar connecting with your foot?  It's time to bend that sucker backwards and show him where to go.

Using a pair of needle nose pliers, pull that bar backwards to form a U shape. You do still need this bar in place because it holds the foot together, but if you bend it back, it will still do that job, but retire from the needle bar hitting career.

2. Lift to the right height - With the needle bar bent back, you've just ruined your foot.  It will be all spring loaded squish all the time, and I doubt even the thinnest quilt would be able to move under it.

So fix the squish!  Press on the base of the foot and you'll see the little area between the plastic and the now-defunct needle bar hitter.  This is the magic space where the height of your foot is determined.

Bend that pesky bar back, then wrap a rubber band in the magic space between the bar and the plastic
 Wind a small rubber band into this area to fill in the space and lift the foot.

I always start with 4 loops around, then wind up the rest of the rubber band on top to get it out of the way.  Place it on your machine, put a quilt sandwich below it, then see how things feel.

You want to be able to move the quilt under the foot smoothly.  No squishing allowed!

However, you also don't want the foot lifted so high that things feel out of control.  If the foot is lifted too high, your thread will have a tendency to break because the quilt is jiggling around on the surface of the machine.

If your foot feels too high, adjust the rubber band so there are fewer loops filling in the magic space.

If you foot feels too low, add a few loops to the magic space.

Yes, this works!  It might seem crazy, but it really can make an enormous difference for free motion quilting.

What's really good about this rubber band adjustment is it works on all machines - no matter if you have a pressure adjustment knob or not.  Personally I don't like adjusting the presser foot pressure on my machine because I don't like the idea of forgetting about it and needing to readjust whenever I switch to piecing.

Yes, this is a bit of a finicky personal thing, but also keep in mind that most affordable sewing machines (under $1000) don't usually have pressure adjustment knobs standard.

Oh yeah, one more thing about this generic foot: if you really want to make it 100% awesome - take a pair of clippers and clip open the base of the foot so you have a nice open toe.  Ah!  Now you can actually see the needle and know where you're stitching!

If all this makes no sense when looking at photos, check out a video on breaking your foot right here.


Note: All the photos shot for this post were demonstrated on the Janome HD 1000 which accepts universal low shank feet.

The Janome Horizon 7700 is NOT a standard high shank however (generic feet won't work), but this machine comes with the awesome QBH foot which doesn't need any adjustment, other than removing the bar that makes the foot hop.

Also while Bernina machines do have adapters that allow them to be compatible with universal low shank feet, it's far better to look for the Open Toe Darning foot.  This Bernina foot is also awesomely designed and requires no adjustment.

Now with this dissertation on darning feet out of the way, let's talk about quilting Circuit Board!

The next question is from Malini's Quilting Journey:

Is it okay if my quilting isn't evenly spaced?


Full question: In my variation of circuit board, I tried to be mindful about the pictures/images on the fabric and my quilting ended up not being equally spaced. Is this okay? I kind of know you're answer....I bet you're going to say if I like it then its okay. Any way wanted to hear your suggestions.


How dare you assume what my answer would be!  No!  All your lines must be EXACTLY 1/2 inch apart ALL THE TIME.  Don't even THINK of stitching it any other way!


Lol.  I just got my impulse to be a screaming dictator out of my system for the week.

Dude, it's your quilt!  If you're worried about quilting over the cute bunnies on the fabric, you can either sittch around them, or a much better idea is to draw some shape around them (circle, square, triangle, ameoba) and stitch around that shape.  That way the gaps in your quilting make sense.

But again, it's your quilt!  Take a look at it and decide how you want it to go.  Another idea would be to quilt UP to the image on the fabric, quilt around it (outline quilting), then fill around it with the design.  This would also be a great practice idea for stitching on a line and filling around a complex shape.

Let's see if I can stop shouting at Malini for her second question:

Do some people find it easier to do the curvy designs over the boxy ones? Or is it just me?

No, it's not just you ;-)

I think it's something about the way we're wired, but I agree that curvy designs are easier.  Not all quilters will find this however, and even if it does feel difficult, it's still a good idea to play with both types.

When I first started quilting, I struggled with straight line designs and found them literally jarring.  I zone out while quilting (it's more or less my meditation time), but straight line designs were always distracting.  It took about 2 years of quilting a lot before I finally started to like them.


The nice thing about this is you now have two choices when quilting: When you're needing a comfortable, cozy zone-out session behind the machine pick designs that make you comfortable.

When you're needing a challenge, to push your edge, pick designs that feel a bit like pulling teeth.  Eventually they won't feel so hard, but there will always be designs you like better than others. 

Finally one last question from Danielle Hudson:

Is there any reason you don't spray baste your quilts? 

Full Question: I have just started using the spray baste on the last quilt I did and have been using it on my practice quilt sandwiches with great sucess. Is there anything bad about this product we should know? My biggest concern is if it is harmful to my machine. There are the obvious health and environmental issues, but my biggest concern is my machine. It's my pride and joy;)

I don't spray baste mostly because it's smelly, sticky, and flammable. Josh is asthmatic and I'm super sensitive to smell too, so it was never a good fit for my family.

I also don't do it because the 2 times I tried it, my quilt shifted horribly.  I didn't have a good experience and, yes, it has colored my opinion on spray basting ever since.

Lastly, will never learn how to spray baste properly after reading this study of the long term effects of spray basting chemicals on cotton fabric.

So personally I think spray baste has 3 strikes against it: it stinks to use it, it doesn't do the job properly, and it may destroy my quilt in 50 years.

Granted, there are many, many professional quilters that use spray baste and swear by it.  Just like with the bobbin washers - we don't all have to agree.  Use what you want and what works for you!

Now I think I've ranted more than enough today.  Take what you can from my strong opinions and weird humor and let's go quilt something pretty!

Leah

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Quilt Along #18 - Go Loopy with Loopy Line!

Time to get back to the Quilt Along today with a new...old...new design!  This design is new to the project (wasn't included in the original 365), but old in the sense that I think every book on free motion quilting EVER written has included this simple variation of Stippling:

I'm calling this design Loopy Line and it's really quite a simple variation - just add loops to your already wiggly Stippling line to create a slightly different, more tangled texture.

Let's learn how to break this design down into simple rows, then put all the shapes together to create a complex Loopy Line design:


Difficulty Level - Beginner.

Design Family - Independent.

Within this video, I basted the little fat quarter sized practice sandwich using Pinmoors.  These small silicone anchors allow you to baste your quilts using straight pins, and best of all, make it much easier to remove the pins as you quilt.  Click here to learn more about Pinmoors.

When it comes to loopy line, the most simplistic version of the design is a row of loops.  These also work a bit like the cursive letter "e."

The neat thing about Loopy Line is so many of the simple versions look so terrific, you can use them on your quilt as is!  A row of "e" shapes can look terrific in the sashing or borders of a quilt!

You'll probably find this design easier to quilt this way - with the loop curling upwards.  Now try the opposite and stitch the row with the loop twisting downwards:

A bit more tricky?  It might feel less natural simply because you have a frame of reference and built muscle memory for the letter "e" which curls up rather than down.

Now let's kick it up a notch and put both forms together to create this lacy design:

Again, this looks good enough to use in your quilt's sashing!  Just keep the loops evenly spaced and this design will be a big hit!

If we can curl the loops outward, can't we also curl them inward?  Try it to create this version:

This is a bit more tricky, but once you get the flow of it, it's quite a nice design to stitch.  You will need to form loops inside tight areas and sometimes this is the only way to do it.

Now put all the elements together and just go loopy!

I'm intrigued to see how you like this design.  I remember reading in the comments of a quilter's post last month something like: "I never learned to cross my lines of quilting.  I was always taught to never do that so now crossing my lines of quilting just seems wrong.  I don't like to do it."

I have no idea why a teacher would teach that it's bad to cross your quilting lines, and for the record, no, it won't damage your quilt in any way.  If anything, it will hold the quilt more securely together!

Think of this simply as a different element of design that will add a slightly different texture.  If you like the texture, stitch it!  If you hate the texture, find a design you do like!

Stippling, Sharp Stippling, Zippling, and Circuit Board are all designs formed with lines that never, ever cross so you definitely have some alternatives to choose from if you decide Loopy Line isn't for you.

Now that we have five awesome designs in our repertoire, it's time to use them all in an awesome modern quilt project!

Next week with Quilt Along #19 we're going to learn how to piece the blocks to create our modern quilt top.

You will need around 1-2 yards of background fabric that is solid, or reads as solid.  You could also use strips or scraps, but make sure your strips are between 2.5 - 4 inches wide.

You'll also need anywhere from 15 to 30 squares of some other color.  You can use more solids, or your favorite prints, or hand dyed fabrics.  I cut all of my squares 6 inches.  You're welcome to cut yours bigger or smaller, it's totally up to you!

We're going to focus on this project for the next 3 weeks so if you want to quilt along with it, definitely get some materials prepared and ready to go for next Wednesday.


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!


Time to Shut Up and Go Quilt,

Leah Day

Monday, June 11, 2012

Duchess Reloaded #1 - Pulling Out an Old Friend

This weekend I finally dug around in my collection of large quilt designs to pull out The Duchess's original drawing:

This design was created back in the fall of 2008, back before I knew anything about graphic design or drawing on the computer, and way before I started working on these skills.  Back then, I would draw my quilt designs entirely by hand on very large pieces of graph paper all taped together.

It worked, but it has created a very large collection of paper patterns that are hard to store.  Here's my favorite storing method so far:

This is around 50 designs are suspended off the ground using 2 inch strips of fabric screwed into the top of the table.  It's effective at getting these patterns out of my way, off the shelves, but still organized so they're not a total mess.

Looking back at The Duchess pattern, this is the real mess:

This is the pattern used to mark the fabric and only covers 1/4 of the full quilt.  When designing something like this symmetry is your best friend.  There's no need to design or draw the quilt at full size when each quarter is identical and your fabric can simply be rotated, the lines matched up, the fabric secured, and the marking process continue.

Originally I wanted to fill the bands within the scallops with circles, but lacked the skill.  I also slapped together the border design very quickly which made it quite piece-meal and ended up being the bane of my existence when quilting.

Looking back at this design, I feel an odd wave of emotions.  In a lot of ways, I'm still very proud of this pattern.  It was a mighty accomplishment back when I knew almost nothing about show quilting or design.

In other ways, I hate this pattern.

I hate that I got so stuck on the idea of Georgian designs that I refused to think for myself and design motifs I'd actually like.  I dug myself a deep rut with this quilt, and looking at it, I feel that rut wanting to suck me back in.  The rut sounds something like "The motifs MUST be perfect Georgian designs! YOU cannot change ANY aspect of this design!  The motifs MUST be exactly like THIS!"

I think this is the reason I've always put this project away after looking at it.  It's got a lot of baggage that likes to shout at me. ;-)

So I'm going to take a deep breath and ignore all that nonsense.  Last time, I designed this quilt not for myself, but simply to impress judges and to look like a costume out of the movie The Duchess.  To be perfectly honest, it was a rather soulless way to design a quilt.

This time I'm sticking with the original size and layout of the design (the scallops, the center circle), but changing the design to fit my personality.  I want an over-the-top amazing wholecloth, but I want it filled with motifs and designs that speak to me.  Heck, I might even stick a goddess in the center, who knows?!

So the first step on this project is to get the quilt scanned into the computer.  I no longer work with large scale patterns and having this quilt design in the computer would be a good start to getting the new version designed.

Another benefit to getting the design into the computer is size.  I might have designed this thing around 80 inches (it finished 65, which let's you know how much trapunto and dense stitching can shrink a quilt), but that doesn't mean the new version has to be so big.

As for the actual process of getting it INTO the computer, I believe I'll transfer sections of the quilt to graph paper, then scan them in.  From the scanned images, I'll start reconstructing the quilt piece by piece.  Things like the center circle will be easy.  Things like the scallops or woven knot corners will be difficult.

Still, I'm in the mood for a challenge.  The summer always makes me want to dig into a big project and zone out for hours behind the machine.  I think I've definitely selected a project that will allow me to do just that!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Quilt Biz #10 - Stay Focused

Today let's talk about focus.  In order to start a large, complicated quilt, you have to have clear focus on the project and each of the many steps required to take it from a pile of fabric and thread to a masterpiece of color, shapes, and texture.

To start a business, you need exactly the same thing.  Clear, dedicated focus on your objective, and an unwavering, brave heart to keep you on track.

But what is your objective?  What is the main goal here?

This is a key point that I think often gets overlooked.  You want to start a business, yes, but what is the main goal of this business?  What is the objective for 1 year, 2 years, 10 years down the road?

Are you building this for yourself, or do you want to one day hand this business down to a family member or sell it for a profit?

Having a focus, then sticking with it is one of the most important keys to any endeavor, whether it's opening a quilt shop in a small town, or beginning your first wholecloth quilt.

Unless you understand what the POINT is, you will probably not end up feeling very good about your project as it gets off the ground because your focus is muddled and mired in a confusing mix of goals and emotions.

Yes, I did say emotions.

When we set a goal, or even just write a checklist of things to do, we become emotionally engaged.  Have you ever started a quilt project, only to lose focus on it, but then find yourself unable to throw it away because you're so emotionally attached to it?

It's not usually a good feeling.  It's a weird mix of guilt at starting the project and not finishing it, the feeling of intention to get back in gear with it, but drudgery at the idea of returning to that confused place of mixed emotions and goals.

We are emotional creatures and the second our brains become invested in an idea, a quilt project, a business plan, we lock on to the idea, not necessarily on the end result, or even the long haul it will take to get there.

Here's a great example: I've wanted a storefront business since I was around 12.  It's an emotional desire - the lust for a special place all my own that I fill with pretty things.  When I think of this idea, it's always met with a heady mix of deep longing and wistfullness.

My brain loves day dreaming about this emotional idea, but really hates it when someone (usually my husband) starts listing all the reasons why opening a storefront really isn't possible for us right now.  And what would be the end result?  What is the goal for a storefront anyway?

I always have to be honest and admit the fact that a storefront isn't what I really want - it's the emotional daydream I really enjoy. My lack of any real concrete plans, logistical diagram for how this massive thing could fit into our tight budget and within our busy schedule tells the real truth: I'm in love with the idea, not the real thing.

That's not to say that I will never, ever own a little shop of my own, but it is a definite sign that I need to get my head on straight and do a lot more planning before that day comes.

Focus is essential, and having a goal to focus ON is a great help.

When it comes to creating a massive show quilt, or even just a king sized quilt for your niece's wedding, focus will keep you on track and working through the quilt step by step.

In this case, the end result is not something to focus on (that can drive you crazy), but each step of the process.

Personally I find if mistakes are made in the quilt in the first few days of piecing or applique, those mistakes will continue to ripple through the entire process, tainting the experience.  The main reason I drop a project halfway through is due to the overwhelming feeling that nothing I do will fix the issues that happened at the very beginning.

It's far better to take more than enough time, to focus with methodical attention to those starting steps, and give yourself the best possible base to work from.

In order to work through the entire project in this methodical manner, you have to build stamina and a steadiness of spirit to maintain focus on that project, even when new fabrics, luscious threads, and alternative designs are calling your name.

This also relates to business: if you are opening a quilt shop, you need to focus on quilting.

This weekend I stopped by a neat little shop in NC full of fabric, leather, paper, vintage clothes, and all sorts of interesting odds and ends.  It was neat, but I left wondering how the shop could possibly stay in business - it had no focus.  

It was trying to be a lot of things at once, but it wasn't able to fully support any single focus.  It's like the owner had a lot of passions, but each one was warring with the others for dominance.  It probably worked for the owner, but for customer looking for only quilting stuff?  It was distracting.

This is not to say that you can't run a quilt shop and also have a workshop on spinning yarn!  This is not to say that you can't teach knitting or crochet or lace making or beadwork.  These crafts are also equally awesome and fun to teach, but you need to remember what your store's focus is.

And if it doesn't have a focus, you'd better get one!

And speaking of focus, I'm feeling the need to alter these Sunday Quilting Business posts.  With 10 posts shared, I believe I've covered a wide range of topics and ideas that should get you started with an online or physical quilt shop.

Yes, this collection of posts will remain online right here for you to browse through and enjoy:


On the weekends we're going to return to the focus of free motion quilting with new designs, new quilts, and maybe an occasional weird day when I feel like sharing a video on spinning or dyeing fabric. Yes, I, too, must remind myself to maintain a clear focus on my core passion: free motion quilting.

And we'll close with the last lesson of all: know when to close gracefully.

If your business isn't working no matter how much content you throw at it, if no customer wants to buy your quilts, no matter how low the price, the best decision you can make is to close the doors gracefully and without regret or guilt.

No, not all businesses succeed. It is a sad, but true fact that even those with buckets of great ideas and hopeful intentions sometimes get screwed.  It can be a simple twist of fate (a freak storm and flood), a twist of finances (hacker in your bank account), or a twist of traffic (google's algorithms do change, and not always for the better).

Rather than mire yourself in a deep weighty pool of guilt, or worse, fill yourself with dread and fear of this potentiality, instead embrace whatever comes with as much grace and acceptance as you can muster.

Business ebbs and flows.  There will be times you wonder how in the world you'll pay the electric bill.  There will be times you will wonder where the heck everyone has gone - all you hear is crickets chirping.

There will also be times you wish you had 10 arms to keep up with every task, and 10 mouths to answer every question.  There will be times of plenty, there will be times of debt.

Accept this.  Feel the fear of all that could come, but the excitement of what could come with it.  Good luck!

Leah Day

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