The Free Motion Quilting Project: Question / Answer Design Process

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Question / Answer Design Process

It's Wednesday and time to check in with what's on the machine right this second. No surprises here - Duchess Reigns is here to stay for a bit:

free motion quilting | Leah Day

She's both big and heavy, and the trapunto I added makes many areas very puffy, which is making this a slow quilt to quilt. It's easy to stitch off the lines and make other simple mistakes simply because the quilt is fighting against me.

But I wouldn't want to work on anything else in the world right now!

I did have a few questions about dyeing yesterday that I'll answer here because this entire project was such a long process of sampling and experimenting. I literally spent 3 months stitching small samples of the quilt, dyeing at different stages and working to figure out what colors I wanted, what fills needed to be where, and what the overall impact of the quilt would be.

Most of this is guess work. The only way to know how she will truly look is when she will be finished, but it is possible to answer tons of questions within the design process very early in the game.

So why is the thread showing up?  

Karen at Fireball quilts noticed this and asked about it yesterday.

Here's the deal: Dharma Procion dyes are designed to dye cotton fiber, especially when used with soda ash. If I was dyeing another natural fiber, like wool or silk, I wouldn't use soda ash, but citric acid crystals to make the dye more acidic to bond with those materials.

But polyester is a man-made material and I have no idea what bonding agent I'd need to get it to accept dye. I ran some tests and found the if I used polyester thread to outline, it would not accept the dye and would remain white on the surface of the quilt:
free motion quilting | Leah Day
Test Sample of various filler designs stitched in Isacord thread, then dyed two different colors.
This sample above helped me make many decisions in the process of planning Duchess Reigns. I could barely see where I was stitching to quilt the fillers in the corner and instantly knew waiting to dye to the very end (outlined and filled quilt) would be very challenging. Half the sample was left unquilted just to test if that would still be an okay stage to dye. Luckily it worked great and this is exactly how I planned to dye Duchess Reigns from then on.

But what if I didn't want this thread white? What other options do you have in this process?

If I'd wanted the thread to dye right along with the fabric, I could have always used 100% cotton thread. I even ran some tests with Aurifil 50 wt mako cotton, which turned out quite nice, though just not what I was going for with this quilt:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Same designs and dyes tested, only difference is this is quilted with Aurifil 100% cotton thread
 You can also see by these samples that at one time I was trying to work with 2 colors at once. Each time I tried this, it just ended up making a mess, so that idea was scrapped. Without a sample, you can never be sure of your results!
 I also received a few different questions from quilters about my chosen dyeing method.  

Why didn't I just dye the quilt in a big bathtub or in the washing machine?

The most simple reason is I tested this and couldn't get the desired results. I attempted many times to dye large panels of fabric - 80 inches square - and each time the colors came out unsatisfactory. When I tested the method of applying directly over a soda ash soaked quilt, things finally worked properly.

You need to understand the process of trial and error with this quilt. I started out with a wide open rule - I LOVE EVERYTHING! - and slowly narrowed down designs, motifs, color, thread, and the dyeing process.

At no point in time did I ever say "I'm not allowed to do that." That is a dangerous road to take with design, and I once did that with beadwork and know the path it leads to - frustration and disappointment. All doors were open to me. All possibilities were there, and with over 400 designs to choose from, that can be a bit overwhelming to try to pick just a handful to use!

So I constantly narrowed my focus with the question - What fits this quilt perfectly?

This isn't an easy question, but coming from The Duchess, I knew certain things had to remain - she needs to be both simple and complex (a paradox), the focus needs to be on the center medallion, then the borders need an equal design to complement the center, the background needs to be filled in a way that is both engaging, but not so flashy it's distracting, and so on.

This was a simple process of asking questions and seeking answers. Taking out all the question marks early in the process has made my life now just a joy of quilting. I'm not asking any questions, I'm trusting that I've made the right decisions and all I need to do is quilt and be happy:

free motion quilting | Leah Day

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. That is looking so nice! Love the pineapple design on the arms. Looks like the pineapple crochet design!

  2. Manmade fibres like polyester need Disperse dyes, or dyes which need heat, ie in a pot on the cooker, or need heat to set, like steaming or zapping in a microwave. Hardly fit a quilt in though!
    I love looking at the designs although don't quilt, I am using to step away from my normal background surface stitching.
    Thank you

  3. Leah,

    I can't believe how talented you are. Everything you make is amazing. I'm glad you answered the question about the thread I was wondering how that worked.

    Again you do beautiful work.

  4. That is looking beautiful! I can't believe how much is going into that piece but I know it will be a treasure when complete. Really.... That is really something!!

  5. Looking amazing! I can't believe how quickly she's progressing.

  6. So beautiful. I have no intention of ever attempting something like this but love listening and reading how you did it and just getting inspired for the quilting part of it. I'll patiently wait until you get back to the Goddess...

  7. Wow! your goddess quilt is looking stunning. I especially love how you quilt the arms and face. It really pops and gives her a nice shape.

  8. Very beautiful work Leah! I've never experimented with dyes, but it sounds very interesting to try.

  9. Making samples is such an important part of the design process and one that is common to skip. We never really know how a quilt will turn out when we start the process, but making samples at least gives us a clue.

  10. Leah, this piece is beautiful, but I can not wrap my head around even how to start something like this. You are doing an awesome job!

  11. Leah, you are an artist extraordinaire, and a superb explainer/instructor. Thank you for all of your selfless work to share your talents and skills!


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