The Free Motion Quilting Project: July 2012

Monday, July 30, 2012

Back in the Studio with Duchess Reigns and Emergence

Whew!  Lots of traveling and packing and unpacking chaos can really mess with quilting time!  Fortunately I left NC in the middle of two big projects that really need to be completed this summer, so coming back home I know exactly what I need to work on next.

The first project is Emergence, who I'm calling my "problem child."  She's had her string of issues so a few weeks ago I pulled her off the wall and ripped her face and hair out.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

Hairless and faceless, she's now ready for a new design.  Using tracing vellum, I've sketched the outline of her face and neck and have begun designing her new hair and face.  With these elements designed, it should be a simple process of attaching new applique shapes for her hair and quilting in the new face design.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
On the design front, The Duchess Reigns is almost ready!  I played with many designs for the woven star in the center of the quilt, but ended up deciding to use both circles (as in chain of pearls) and triangles (as in flock of geese) in the spaces between the woven lines.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
I've also taken another look at the goddess and her vase.  These elements were designed first and after completing the rest of the quilt now they need a bit of adjustment to fit into the symbols and shapes I ended up using elsewhere.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

A big change was the goddesses breastplate.  Every time I tried to sketch a fill over the area, I couldn't figure out what to quilt there.  That's a good sign that the design needs to change!  So I drastically changed the vase and elements of the goddess so they now fit more solidly with the other elements in the quilt.   

Now looking at the design, the only thing left to complete is some triangles or circles in the border area.  Once this is done, I think it will be finally time to print and start marking fabric!

With two big projects going on, it's tough to decide what to work on first.  One thing I like to do is have a project in a hand work stage and another project in a machine quilting or design stage.  This way there's only one quilt on the lightboxes or machine, and one quilt rolled up on the couch for hand work.

It's also a nice way of balancing the projects by what I feel like doing each day.  Sometimes I just don't want to do hand work, while other days I'm craving it.  As always, balance is best!

So now I'm off to the studio to begin working on Emergence.  Once her face is put back on properly, then it will be the duchess's turn.  I can't wait!

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Craftsy Class Adventure

Yay!  I just got finished shooting my first class for!

It's shocking how well I've kept this little HUGE secret in the bag for the last 3 months, but I have been literally bursting at the seams to tell you about the awesome class we've been putting together for free motion quilting.  Note: I'll share more details on the actual class later when it launches in November!

So for the last 3 days I've been in Denver, Colorado hanging out with Justin, Jared, and Carolyn, doing what I'm always doing - making videos about free motion quilting!

free motion quilting | Leah Day
This was a really interesting experience because while I've taught quilting on video an enormous amount, I've never done it like this.  Every morning started by having my hair and make up done by my stylist Danica or Tiffany:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Next, we'd start shooting in a studio with lots of hot lights and 2 cameras to catch every detail on the machine.  In the back of the room Carolyn was editing the videos as they were shot.  While many aspects of teaching were the same, I had to get used to many new things - like watching out for loud sounds.

Normally I don't worry about this at all (which is why you can usually hear a rooster crowing in the background of my videos), but for Craftsy, we'd stop and wait when loud cars drove by or loud music was being played.  The guys operating the cameras (and often standing for hours at a time) had to be super careful not to make a sound while I was talking or quilting.  Try holding a cough or sneeze for 10 minutes and see how hard that can be!   

This attention to detail went far beyond background noise.  I'm so super excited about my class because I feel like I was finally able to go into some intense detail that I haven't been able to go into before because of time or shooting limitations.

Having made over 500 videos, that's a pretty bold statement, but keep in mind I'm still limited to 15 minute videos on YouTube, and the constraints of shooting videos all by myself.  While no, I hardly get any complaints about my videos, personally I've always felt like they could just be...better.

With Craftsy, I've finally found that missing element that's always bothered me - the workshop feel.

When I'm at a workshop, all I have to worry about is teaching and sharing the information as clearly as possible.  I don't have to worry about lighting or editing or squishing the video into 15 minutes.  I just stand up and teach!

The really terrific thing about this class is it will be just as interactive as a real workshop.  Just in case you're not familiar with Craftsy you should really check it out!  Not only can you post questions to the platform of your classes, you can also post photos and have discussions with other students.  You can find all the quilting classes posted so far right here.

It's an awesome learning environment because each class is quite meaty with lots of focus on the little details that can easily be missed.  Ultimately a Craftsy class ends up feeling more like a college course or an artistic intensive, but with the added benefit of being able to return to different lessons again and again and interact with the instructor at any time.

It honestly blows away anything I've been able to teach in a traditional quilting in-person workshop or in all of my YouTube videos.  I guess the big difference is I was encouraged to focus on the tiny details, but also moved steadily through lots of designs and information.  Meaty is really the best description!

While here in Denver, I met many people that will be involved in taking the videos and turning them into the finished class.  Overwhelmingly, every single person I met was super excited and happy to be working at Craftsy, even though it's obviously a demanding job with long hours (one day we shot from 8 am until 8 pm and no one complained at all!)

That might seem like a silly thing to notice, but personally I know that positive attitudes, excitement, and this kind of dedication only come when everyone is super psyched up about what they do.  It was so much fun to hang out and work with so many like-minded people!

Again, that might not seem like a big deal, but over the last two years whenever I've started a conversation with a new person I've met, like at a mom / kid outing with James or at yoga class, I've always felt a bit like a freak.

I'm not sure whether I intimidate other women or if it's something else, but it's often hard for me to find people to relate to in Shelby, NC.  Here in Denver, I met 3 women, all published authors and professional in their field of quilting, weaving, or crochet, and I'm sure there are many, many more working for Craftsy that I just didn't have time to meet and gab with while I was here.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

I guess the point of all this rambling is simple: we all want to belong and feel good about what we do.  Teaching this class for Craftsy, I found both.

So now after 3 solid days of shooting videos, talking almost constantly, and smiling my face off, I'm feeling super tired, but also super happy.  I'm ready to go home, but I'm also most definitely ready to come back to shoot more classes whenever I can!

Time to shut up and quilt sleep...


P.S  Super, super, super thank you to Linda, Jared, Carolyn, Justin, Nicole, Sadie, Tiffany, and Danica who all made my experience 100% awesome, and to everyone else that will have a hand in turning this raw film into a finished class!

free motion quilting | Leah Day

And an extra big thank you and hug to Alissa who helped me plan and outline this class - without you, this class wouldn't have happened!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Question Thursday #24

Yes!  I'm posting super late because all day I've been ------ (sorry, I can't spill the beans on that yet, but hopefully tomorrow I'll be able to tell you what I've been up to)!  It's still Question Thursday though and time to answer your questions about free motion quilting. 

First question is from Pat at Color Me Quilty:

How do I prevent my quilt from dragging against the machine?

Full Question: I seem to struggle with quilting a big quilt, especially when the majority of the quilt is in my lap. It seems to get caught on the front edge of my acrylic extension table. My machine is at a good height for me (I've lowered my table and raised my chair). Short of getting one of the cool Gidget II tables (which is on my wish list, but isn't going to happen any time soon), any suggestions on how to keep my quilt from dragging on the front edge?

Hmm...This is a very common issue for quilting.  The drag of the quilt is definitely going to pull against you, particularly in the front of the machine where the quilt seems to like to sit on your lap.

Yes, the easiest solution in this situation is to use a drop down table where the machine is on a flush surface, but even then, the quilt will have a tendency to flop off the front of the table, particularly when you're quilting in the middle of the quilt.

The best advice I have in this situation is try pushing your machine back slightly on the table surface.  This will give you a little bit of space on the table (not the machine extension table, but the table the machine is sitting on) for you to roll or fold the edge of the quilt up and place it in that space.

Keep in mind, you're not rolling the quilt up tight.  You're just going to kind of generally scrunch it up and stick it into this little shelf of space between the machine and the table surface.

This will take the weight off the quilt and if you stick your body right up next to the table, your body will prevent the quilt from falling off the front of the machine.

Now make sure there's still a bit of slack in the front of the quilt and pull that extra bit of quilt up to the top of the extension bed or machine table surface on the same level where your hands will be resting.  This will allow the quilt more movement, so it will be easier to move and hopefully not catch too badly on the front of the machine.

Next, let's answer a question from Karin at The Quilt Yarn:

 What caused this pucker?

Full Question: My question this week relates to my quilt that I am using for practice. I constructed this out of squares with some sashing in between. To stabilise this, I quilted all of the squares along the ditch that I am quilting the squares I am getting puckers where it meets the quilting-in the ditch.  

Here is a close up - a bit hard to see as the photo is not the best quality but the pucker is in the left corner where the Bare Branch design extends a bit too far into the corner.
Photo from Karin's blog The Quilt Yarn
- should I have quilted in-the ditch of all the squares or should I just have had maybe one vertical and one horizontal line to stabilize the quilt and then commenced the FMQ in the squares (as some books suggest)?
-or, is this maybe the result of not adequately basting the whole affair (as the squares are a bit puffed out) ?

 Karin, you are a doll to post such a detailed picture and common issue for free motion quilting!  Thank you!

Here's the deal: pleats and puckers happen.

Maybe I should put that on a t-shirt because it's so normal!  No matter how perfect your piecing, no matter how exact the applique, quilts do get puckers, and occasional pleats as you quilt.

What happens is simple: things shift.  When you stitched the block in the ditch, you stabilized that area, but you also kind of locked the fabric in place, which is a good thing, but as you filled the block, the excess fabric in the block pushed to the edges.

To answer your question, no, I don't think you should have quilted this block differently.  I personally would have quilted it in the ditch first, then filled it with bare branches.

Yes, some of the issue might have been in the basting, though probably not much.  Next time you baste a quilt, just take an extra bit of time to really get the backing fabric tight, then spread, spread, spread out the batting, then super spread the quilt top.  Keep any eye out for any area that ripples around on you, and make sure to give it a bit if extra attention and extra spreading and smoothing.

Once everything is super flat, then insert your pins and place extra pins in those places where you noticed rippling and wrinkling.

If this describes exactly what you did in the basting, don't worry.  You really haven't done anything WRONG here.  Instead the fabric is just behaving like fabric - it moves!

Sometimes these issues with excess fabric and potential pleats can be best sorted out in the quilting.  As you're quilting close to those stitched-in-the-ditch sections, put more tension in your hands to pull the fabric tight and flat by pulling your thumbs down slightly and your fingers out slightly as you stitch through the area.

No, you're not tugging with all your life, you're just gently putting tension into the space with your fingers and thumb.  It's very subtle, but can make a difference when you're quilting into a problem area.

And for the record - yes, I deal with baggy fabric, potential pleats and puckers.  The trick is not obsessing about them, but knowing what to do when you see the fabric begin to act that way.

On occasion, a pleat is unavoidable.  No amount of gentle tugging or tension will help and that's okay!  Your quilt will survive and no one will notice something this small, so just keep quilting and gradually you will be able to diagnose and deal with these issues before they happen.

Now let's answer some questions from Danielle from Fresh off the Spool:

How do you keep your spacing so consistent? 

Full Question: Are you just naturally good at it or do you have a magic trick?  I have always been artistic. Have done calligraphy since I was 10. But, to make calligraphy really outstanding, spacing of the letters and the height are the key. I have always struggled with this. If I don't have marked lines, I will veer off. I do the same thing when I swim with my eyes closed. 

Gosh, I wish consistent spacing was a magic trick!  Wouldn't it be great if I could just tell you to blink three times, hold your breath, turn in a circle, and swear 10 times and you'd suddenly be able space things perfectly apart?!

If only I had a time machine and could easily go back in time to 2008 and show you just how terrible my quilting was and how much I struggled to quilt lines consistently.  Unfortunately it wasn't a magic trick or a special spell, but simply practice that allowed me to get this good.

Here's some food for thought and some excellent books to read for homework:

First read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, then read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

By the time you get through both books, you will entirely understand why I can quilt so consistently.

In a nutshell - I set a goal to not just quilt, but to specifically free motion quilt every single day.  This habit allowed my skills to develop very rapidly.

No, I'm not extraordinarily talented.  I don't have special genes or extra creativity brainwaves or anything weird like that.  Many people take issue with that statement, but it's true.  I wasn't BORN quilting, this was a skill I developed over time, with practice and effort.

And just luckily I've been blessed with a family that has supported and nurtured my creative urges and thanks to many extremely lucky coincidences, I've been able to follow my urge to quilt every day.

So the truth is - anyone can do this.  YOU CAN DO THIS.  It is not actually talent, but SKILLS developed through habits of continually stitching and honing your skills.

And no, I can't write in a straight line without marking the straight line first, I'm hopeless at calligraphy because my left hand drags against the paper and smears it terribly, and I also can't swim straight with my eyes closed.  Somehow I really doubt any of those skills are really related to quilting because they all use different muscles and different parts of our brain and body to work right!

Danielle also asked:

How much time do you spend quilting/sewing per day, or week?

This is really hard to say and definitely fluctuates with what is going on in my life and with my family and our daily schedule.

In the summer, I struggle to find this time because I really don't like to be interrupted when I quilt, and because everyone is home and we have no real schedule it's hard to find that time (except in the middle of the night, but that's very practical long term).

I'd say shoot to spend about 15 minutes a day on your machine.  Then build up to 30 minutes.  Then 1 hour.  Slowly integrate it into your day until it becomes a habit (another reason to read that book mentioned above!)  I swear you will see an enormous difference, even quilting just 15 minutes every day.

Now for a great question from MC at Slair's Lair:

How big of a quilt can I make on my small machine?

Full Question: My machine only has a throat space of six inches. Do you think this is enough to quilt a queen sized project? Is there a rule of thumb to determine the maximum size a home sewing machine can accommodate?

Let's see...I'd say the best rule of thumb for this kind of thing is:

Determination + stamina + stubbornness = size of the quilt / machine throat space

Essentially - you can quilt anything you want, so long as you are determined to do it, you have the stamina to physically squish that sucker through the machine, and the stubbornness to not give up.

I truly believe you can do it!  I've quilted huge quilts on small machines, and while the experience wasn't fun and exciting every step of the way, IT WAS NOT IMPOSSIBLE.

So shut up and go do it MC!  If you want that queen sized quilt, and you want to make it entirely yourself, what other option is there?

Now it's been a super long day and I'm super beat.  I look forward to telling you what I've been up to and so crazy secretive about hopefully later this weekend!

Let's go quilt,


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Quilt Along #24 - Tree Roots

It's quilt along time again!  I hope you've had the chance to hop on your sewing machine and practice quilting Bare Branches.  While the straight lines and travel stitching can be tricky, it's sure to really boost your free motion quilting skills

This week we're going see what happens when Bare Branches goes all wiggly and wobbly!  When you make all those straight lines curvy, you end up with Tree Roots:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
This was one of the very first designs I created back in 2009 and it remains one of my absolute favorites.  The flowing, growing texture is the perfect addition to quilts of all shapes and sizes.

Let's learn how Tree Roots works by stitching a few simple rows, then expand with a totally random, free form version in this video:

Here's a photo of all the different versions and rows of Tree Roots stitched in the video:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Really, there's no right or wrong way to practice any design.  Generally this year I've found that by teaching the simple, repeating rows you're able to see the basics of the design and get the hang of the movement.  Then once you try the totally random, totally free form version of the design, it's a lot easier to remember the steps to keep the design working smoothly.

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 (, but the link to the specific post:

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!

Let's go quilt!

Leah Day

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Quilting Habit

Is quilting a habit for you?  This week I downloaded an excellent book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg which is about how powerful habits - things we do every single day - can be for our lives.

What was interesting to learn is how easily habits form.  Way back in high school, I began eating a lot of fast food.  Usually I would be out with friends at night, we'd be in town and get hungry so we began always grabbing burgers and fries.  It was only after a few times that this routine became a habit.

Growing up, I ate fast food maybe 1 time a month.  By the time I went to college, I was eating fast food almost every single day.  It had become a habit that was so ingrained, I didn't really think about it or the consequences until my heath began to suffer, and by then it was a very hard habit to break.

Listening to this book, I'm finding that not all habits are bad, some are actually very good and helpful.  Things like brushing your teeth - you don't even have to think about it, you just do it.

In fact, the centers of your brain that actively think about doing something - like trying a new applique technique - are very active the first couple times you do that activity because it's a new experience.  Once the activity becomes a habit, however, your brain stops activity in those learning / thinking areas.  You literally stop thinking!

I think this is enormously powerful evidence for why quilting seems so easy for some people, and so tricky for others.  If it feels easy, to the point you don't have to think about it, chances are you've turned those steps of quilting into a habit.  You literally don't have to think about every little step anymore because your body can move through those processes automatically.

If quilting still feels very difficult for you, chances are you haven't yet turned these motions, steps, ideas, and techniques into habits.

What's neat is it's not just the techniques - like piecing an exact 1/4" seam allowance, or free motion quilting stippling, but it's also the time you choose to quilt every day.

During the normal part of the year, I always try to get downstairs to quilt first thing in the morning because the house is quiet and I'm not likely to be disturbed.

During the summer, however, James is out of school and my normal sewing time is constantly interrupted.  It wasn't long into the month of May that I saw a serious decline in the amount of time I spent quilting.  I found this very frustrating, but didn't really understand what was happening until I read The Power of Habit and realized that my habits had shifted because of the change in our schedule.

Here's another thing I realized was a habit: negative thoughts.

When things aren't going right, does it feel like a CD gets started in your brain, playing the same old nasty thoughts?  That's a habit too.  The trick is to find the trigger that starts the CD playing.

This summer I have a lot on my mind and many projects occupying my attention.  A year ago, I probably wouldn't be handling all this very well because my habit when things got stressful was to make things worse - pile more work, more projects, more ideas, and more craziness on my shoulders.

This year, however, I've consciously formed new habits around my turbulent emotions.  When I feel tired, I stop pushing myself.  When I get stressed, I make a cup of tea and journal about it.  When I get a headache, I go upstairs and hand stitch binding until the pain goes away.

I began forming these new habits this spring because I was just so sick of being a slave to stress, and only now after reading this book do I understand how these simple habits have helped me become a more balanced person.

I now believe true change happens by making new habits that break or overlap old habits.

So is quilting your habit?  Do you do it every day, at the same time, or just when time and energy allows?  Are certain techniques a habit for you, to the point that you don't really think about the process anymore?

Is it a habit to talk down to yourself when things don't look perfect?  

Think about it today and consider all those unconscious, unthinking reactions that happen every single day.  All those habits we have that we don't even think about anymore, but with a little time and attention can be turned into new positive habits for growth and change.

Let's go quilt,


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Question Thursday #23

It's Thursday once again and time to answer your questions about quilting!  Let's get started with several questions from Karin at The Quilt Yarn:

How far do you quilt to the edge of the quilt?

This is a great question because it can honestly make or break the last few days of working on a quilt.  Put it this way: would you like to spend the last few days on a project ready to chuck it out the window, tear your hair out, and scream in frustration? 

Yes, all three of these things will happen if you try to quilt right smack to the very edge of your quilt top.  It's so intensely frustrating because right at the edge, the three layers of your quilt are very unstable.  It's easy to quilt over the edge and get your foot caught in the batting or the edge of the quilt top, or simply lose control over your stitching as you try to fill this area consistently.

The best advice is to simply NOT quilt to the edge!  I try to plan my quilts ahead and design an extra 1 inch border around the entire edge.  Before quilting, I mark a line 1 inch from the edge on all sides, then quilt to this line, and occasionally over it.

free motion quilting | Leah Day 
Once the entire quilt is finished, all I have to do is trim and square the quilt, following that marked line.

Of course, this kind of thing requires a bit of advance planning, and yes, even I sometimes forget to add that extra inch to my quilt.  In those situations, I've found the best method is to work from left to right with the quilt parallel with your body.  Press (don't stretch) the quilt edge down and keep your hands closer together as you move over this edge.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
It won't be easy or quick, but it is possible to quilt right to the edge of your quilt if you're very patient and careful.

Does anybody have any tips on how to remove blue chalk marks (the variety that is used for dressmaking? The packet says to use a damp cloth which I tried and it does not just dissolve, so I am wondering if it is going to come out at all.

Ah!  The joys of marking!  Sorry to rub it in, but this is a terrific example of why you should ALWAYS TEST your marking device before using it on a real quilt.

Yes, I know it seems boring and ridiculous.  We buy pens and pencils and the packages say wonderful things and we're kind of programed to believe these companies and corporations know what they're doing and we can trust them.

Guess what?!  You can't!  Don't trust any pencil or chalk or marker brand until you've actually applied it to your fabric, followed the directions for removing the marks, and seen them disappear permanently.

Look at it this way: it might take 1 hour of your life to test a marking pencil before using it, or it might take the REST of your life to try to remove marks from your finished gorgeous quilt.  Which do you have time for?

As for getting the marks out - if the directions say a damp cloth, step it up a notch to a bowl of water and a very soft new toothbrush.  Pretend like you're brushing your teeth as you brush water over the surface of your quilt very gently.

If that doesn't work, you'll need to contact the manufacturer for more instructions.  That's the best shot for getting the best advice for removing the marks and not potentially setting them further into the fabric.

One last question from Karin:

I have a Pfaff machine and have a drop-in bobbin case - would you use the Magic Bobbin washers with that?

This is a pretty debatable topic.  Many quilters feel that a plastic, drop in style bobbin doesn't need a little genie magic bobbin washer.  I've spoken to the manufacturer, Pat LaPierre, about this and she says the bobbin washers are helpful in all machines.

So what's the best thing to do?  Try the washers and see what happens!

If you notice improved stitch quality and fewer thread breaks, then obviously the washers are working great for your machine.

If you don't really notice a difference, then the washers might not be as essential for that machine.

In truth, I didn't see as huge an improvement when using the washers in my Janome Horizon as I did in previous machines.  The machine stitched beautifully with or without them.

Then I switched to metallic thread for a quilt and checked the stitches with a washer in and a washer out.  Hands down the machine stitched far better with a washer in while using metallic thread.  I think this is because metallic is finicky and the washer helped the bobbin to glide and feed more evenly.

Personally I keep a washer in all my machines, all the time.  I never take them out, even when piecing or applique.  They simply help to make the bobbin glide and feed more smoothly and evenly within its case, and this improvement will make a difference no matter what you're stitching.

If you're curious to try Little Genie Magic Bobbin Washers, you can find them right here in the Day Style Designs Quilt Shop.

Next let's answer a question from Mary at Can't Stop Stitchin'

Is the type of fabric behind this issue?

Full Question: my background fabric, is a blend of poly and cotton, and my batting is cotton in this quilt, the other fabrics are cotton.  When FMQ, when I got to the darkest fabric, the one that was a poly/cotton blend, all too often my needle pulled bits of cotton to the surface of the quilt; on the other fabrics this hardly happened at all.  Do you know if there was a reaction  with the poly in the fabric to the cotton batt that caused this to happen?  

Chances are if you're only seeing this issue over those polyester blended areas, then yes, the culprit is the type of fabric.

What you're describing - batting being pulled to the surface or back of the quilt - is called bearding.  This can be caused by many things, most usually the type of batting.  Basically what's happening is your needle is going down into the quilt and grabbing a bit of batting and pulling it up to the surface when the needle lifts.

It's hard to say why this is happening only in the areas you have poly fabric.  Maybe the poly is separating when the needle goes down, causing a bigger hole, which allows the batting to come up more readily.  That's my best guess at least.

One thing that might help is to switch to a smaller needle like a Universal 70/10.  Play with this type of needle and see if the problem persists.  If it does, try a sharp or topstitch needle.  Keep the size of the needle small as this will reduce the size of holes being created and hopeful reduce the amount of batting leaking up to the top.

Finally we have one last question from Pat at Color Me Quilty:

Do I really need to adjust my tension every time I change thread?

Full Question: One of the things that they showed me in the basic training for my new Pfaff, was how to test and adjust the bobbin tension, I've never done that on my Babylock. The setting between cotton thread and polyester (Isacord) thread was quite different.  So my question for Leah this week is: Is is normal/typical to set the bobbin tension for each type of thread? Do you piece with cotton and FMQ with Isacord? Would that mean I would have to change the bobbin tension back and forth?

Short answer: Yes.

Different threads have different thicknesses, which means your machine will need to adjust whenever you change threads.

Does this seem ridiculous or excessive?  Yes, it probably will feel that way at first, but you can easily make a habit of adjusting the tension whenever you change thread or switch from piecing to quilting. can simply buy a second machine.

This might seem even more excessive, but hear me out.  Some machines are good at piecing, some machines are good a quilting.  As of yet, I've never met a machine that did everything absolutely perfectly.

It is also a matter of convenience.  To piece, you need a piecing foot and good lighting, but you don't really have to have the machine sunk down into a table.  It's actually easier to piece if the machine is a little higher on a table top so you're eyes are right on a level with the foot.

To quilt, the machine really should be sunk down into a table so the quilt doesn't drag against it.  Tools like the Supreme Slider and a darning foot can also be installed and left in place to make it faster and easier to sit down and start quilting quickly.

It's also a practical arrangement.  When you have two machines, you can piece for as long as you feel like, then switch to quilting whenever you get bored.  You can easily have 2 quilts in production this way - one being pieced or appliqued, one quilted.

Personally this is the way I've organized my sewing room since 2010.  One dedicated machine for piecing (Bernina 1230) and one dedicated machine for free motion quilting (Janome Horizon 7700).

No, having two machines isn't possible for everyone.  Space and cost are of course the biggest issues.  However, with careful planning and budgeting, you can make this happen.

Here's a bit of a story: when Josh and I got married, we lived in the worlds smallest apartment. Literally 550 square feet, and Josh had already claimed about 100 square feet with fish tanks of various sizes and shapes.

The only space available was literally a 3 ft by 6 foot corner next to our bed.  I needed to figure out a way to take this tiny space and turn it into a micro sewing space.

So I pulled out a tape measure and figured out exactly what size tables I needed to fit into that itsy bitsy space.  I didn't know about IKEA at the time, but I did frequent Big Lots and through lots of internet searches, I managed to find the exact table that would fit exactly into the space.  At $20 a pop, that table also fit my college student budget.

Once installed, the tables worked great for sewing, but I still had a lot of sewing stuff that needed organization.  Bobbins, scissors, seam rippers, thread, books, and of course, fabric.

All of these items were easily dealt with by moving vertically.  Inexpensive shelves and thread racks could easily be installed on the wall, moving all that "stuff" up and out of the way. 

In the end, this itsy bitsy space that could have been wasted with a potted plant was instead transformed into a dedicated, high powered sewing space with room for 2 machines and 1 serger.  Not only did I quilt in this space, I sewed around 60 garments a week.  It was not necessarily design to look good, but to work and be super efficient.

So before you scroll down to the comments to scream at me that you can only quilt on you kitchen table and don't possibly have the room for a dedicated sewing area, let alone two machines - STOP and think for a minute - do you have a closet?  Do you have a corner?  Do you have any 6 ft space within your house you could claim as your own?

I always find it hilarious when someone emails me complaining about their lack of space.  I always email back with the same question - How big is your guest bedroom?

You DO have the space, but you just haven't seen it or claimed it yet.  Think about this idea today.  LOOK around and see if there is a corner or closet, or even whole room you can claim for your craft.

Now that turned into a bit of a soapbox!  Hard to believe I went from bobbin tension to sewing room organization, but that's just how things go sometimes!

Let's go quilt,


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Quilt Along #23 - Branch Out with Bare Branches

Time to get back to the Quilt Along and this week let's learn a brand new design!

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Bare Branches is formed by branching out with a straight line, then travel stitching back to the middle of the branch, then stitching out again in a different direction with a new straight line.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
A picture might be worth a thousand words, but a video is worth a million!  Let's see how to quilt several versions of this design in free motion:

Click Here if the Video Does Not Appear

Difficulty Level - Beginner.

Design Family - Independent.

If you like this design a lot, you should definitely check out the new book 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs, which contains 365 awesome designs for free motion quilting.  Click here to learn more about this book.

When it comes to stitching Bare Branches, it's good to start with a few simple rows of repeating shapes.  Here are the shapes I stitched in a practice fat quarter sized quilt sandwich:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
The trickiest part of this design is all the travel stitching.  This is the first filler design we've learned this year that requires travel stitching, so don't be surprised if you have to SLOW DOWN quite a lot to quilt it.

On the plus side, using a design like this in a quilt will really stretch your ability to travel stitch in any direction, at any time.  This is a challenging technique, but it's a fundamental one, so much like playing scales on the piano, Bare Branches is a good design to stitch simply to hone your free motion quilting skills.

Another cool feature of this design is how nicely it will show up on your quilts.  The area of travel stitching have 2 or 3 threads running over the same area.  This is a bit like bolding a word when you're writing.

All the other designs we've learned this year don't have any travel stitching, so they will appear very light on the surface of your quilt.  Only one single line of thread is running through that design so it's not going to stand out nearly as much as a design with multiple threads layered together.

Which designs stand out the lightest in this quilt?  The ones with heavy travel stitching!

free motion quilting | Leah Day

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 (, but the link to the specific post:

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!

Let's go quilt!

Leah Day

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Duchess Reigns #4 - Never Delete Anything

It's been a beautiful weekend here in NC and between working on a slightly secret project (more details later this month) and hanging out with James and Josh, I haven't had much time to work on The Duchess Reigns design this week.

But that doesn't mean I haven't been working on it.  It's always in the back of my mind and I'm always thinking about the areas of this quilt that bother me.

One major question I've been thinking about is the inner sun / star designed for the quilt.  It's gone through several versions already:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Originally I was planning to fill the areas within the star with different filler designs...but then that just started to feel boring.  What if I could fill these areas with something more interesting?

free motion quilting | Leah Day

See the landscape fit into the bottom portion of the sun?  That's basically Landscape Stitch, and with a bit of thread play it will hopefully stand out beautifully in that area

The landscape instantly fit and looked terrific.  In the alternate sharp inner point, I was planning to fill the space with a freeform tree (think Infinity Tree) which would be slightly different in each point.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
But what to do with the area around the tree?  Last week I toyed with the idea of opening this area up with Sharon Schamber's inset corded binding.  However, the space is extremely complex and didn't take well to the technique so that idea was scrapped after a long day of fiddling and cussing at cording.

While I might not have been working on the design every single day, it's definitely stayed on my mind.  I knew the cording was out, and I really didn't want to just slap a filler in the area with no rhyme or reason.

Then I remembered a tree design I played with several weeks ago.

 free motion quilting | Leah Day

This tree was originally designed to create an inner border within the quilt, but I ended up scrapping it in favor of the sun / star.  A bit of deleting, adjusting, and fiddling came up with this:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Rather than stick a small freeform tree in the small point, a huge marked and woven tree will now fill the entire space!

This has all been a lesson to never delete anything when you're working on a design.  You might decided to drop an element in one section, but that doesn't mean it won't be needed somewhere else, or even in another quilt.

So with this section finally fixed, I'm really feeling very happy with the overall design.  Next step: thread color!

Let's go quilt,


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Question Thursday #22

It seems like the summer heat is finally driving everyone back into your sewing rooms because today we have lots of questions to answer about stitches, quilting, and piecing wonky blocks!

Let's get started with a set of questions from Malini via comments:

Should I paper piece my wonky blocks?

Full question: Does paper piecing help creating wonky modern quilt designs?  I relate modern quilting to stippling. It can be crazy but having a plan and structure does help quilting stippling easier. Shouldn't we approach the modern quilt piecing or wonky quilt piecing the same way. If we do make mistakes we shouldn't make a big deal about it. But having a plan in place always helps.

Hmm...This is certainly something to think about and play with.

Honestly, this is really down to the way your brain works.  It's been interesting to watch you all make your modern quilts.  Some are totally random, some are a bit more organized, and some have obviously been painstakingly laid out with lots of thought and obsession.

Here's my take: I look at modern quilting (piecing wonky blocks with no matching seams, random layout, random effect) as a lesson to totally STOP thinking entirely.  Stop judging, stop criticizing, stop analyzing completely.

Just throw the blocks on the table and piece them as they lay!  No thinking involved whatsoever.

Stippling, however, isn't a random thing for me.  I quilt it logically in rows using shapes that have become as familiar to me as writing my own name.  While I don't have to actively think about what I'm doing, I still pay close attention to how the design is being applied to the quilt.

So really I think it's down to the way your mind works.  If you need more structure and control over the outcome, by all means paper piece your blocks.  You could even plan the diagram for the exact quilt top on graph paper if you really wanted to.

If you choose to go the uber-plan route, what makes that quilt different from any other quilt pattern you must follow step by step, to the letter?  All I know for certain is this: randomness actually must be random.  If you try to micro manage this project, your quilt will show it.

Now for a question from Suzanne in the comments:

Why are my stitches still having issues?

Full question:  Before I asked how to you keep from showing your stop/start marks when you switch hands (on the straight lines). Now I see that I'm having trouble with jumping big stitches at places where I change directions - like across the top of a straight place in "circuit boards" or when rounding a curve on meandering.   I have trouble with keeping either a straight line (circuit board, for example) or a smooth line (meandering) because sometimes I soften a line when it should be curved and vice-versa.  I simply cannot seem to stitch some designs at 1/2" circuit boards and loops are all at 1/4" or smaller...suggestions?  Even though I'm nearly finished with the quilt (I made it about 60x60), I still cannot get my stitches to be consistent...some teeny tiny and some long and loopy.   I can't seem to get the hang of what I call your "flame" is the one that meanders with pointy it possible for you to post paper patterns/drawings so I could print them out and follow along (I remember in jr. high school following along a straight line pattern printed on paper until we got it right.

Take a deep breath Suzanne!  Let it out slowly and give yourself a big hug!

I know you're feeling frustrated about your stitches.  It sounds like a lot of the issue comes from having the designs really memorized so you can focus more on your speed and hand movements as you create them.

The best advice I have isn't terrific, but it's the one thing I know will work: practice.

You've made one quilt.  Make another.  Then make another.

I'm sorry to say that you will not master every nuance of speed and movement of your machine with just one quilt.  Just like I absolutely can't master playing the piano by playing one song over and over again.  You're going to have to continually apply yourself to this craft, and yes, that means doing the same thing over and over again until it feels comfortable and begins to look the way you want it to.

When it comes to scale, here's one little cheat I learned over the years: it helps to practice smaller.

On a smaller scale (around 1/4"), you will be able to pack more stitches into a smaller area, so you'll use less fabric, but gain far more experience of moving the quilt and controlling the speed and creating designs.

While this might not be the scale you want to work on, it is a helpful scale for getting lots of practice with minimum cost of materials.

Finally, one last suggestion - give yourself a break!  Stop analyzing your stitches with such criticism!

The only thing you should worry about these days is if a stitch is so huge you might catch your toe in it.  Not only would that be painful, it would likely happen in the middle of the night, and no one wants to be tied to their quilt all night long.  So rip out any offensive toe catchers, but give yourself a break on the smaller stuff.

Your criticism isn't going to make your stitches instantly better, only practice will do that.  And the only way you'll want to practice is if you make this experience fun, not a torture session.

I do like your suggestion about worksheets for the designs.  I'll try to come up with something like that soon!

Now one last question from Pat at Color Me Quilty:

Should I keep the density of quilting consistent in my quilt?

Full Question:  So my question for Leah this week is about balancing stitch density across my Expanding Possibilities quilt.  In the white areas of this quilt I would like to stitch a somewhat dense design.

Photo from Pat's blog Color Me Quilty
 For the center section (squiggly lines part) I would quilt something a little less dense and then on the chevron section and around the flying geese just stitch in the ditch.

Photo from Pat's blog Color Me Quilty
So the quilting would alternate dense, loose, dense sections, etc. across the quilt. Will that work or should I aim to quilt the same density on the whole thing? (I hope these makes sense :O  )
Hmmm....I'll be honest - I'm really not an expert on how far you can push a quilt when it comes to density of quilting.  Personally if I'm going to quilt something dense, I quilt the entire quilt dense just to save the headache of worrying about whether the quilt will like it or not.

But let's take a closer look at Pat's quilt and see if we can try to figure out what might happen to it if some areas are quilted denser than others:

Photo from Pat's blog Color Me Quilty
Now Pat indicated that it's the white sections that would be quilted super densely.  These white sections form the background and borders to the quilt, so the overall effect of the quilt is going to be rather dense and heavily quilted.

The one thing to understand is what might potentially happen:  If the red sections are simply stitched in the ditch, there's a good possibility that they will ripple and bubble up.

Why will this happen?  First off, you have to always remember that fabric is a fluid, moving thing.  If you stitch the snot out of it, you take the flow out.  If you smack an area of flow next to no flow, it's going to be noticeable.

Now the one way to counteract this would be to quilt some density into the red sections.  Rather than just stitch in the ditch, stitch some straight lines, or another design, into those areas to balance out the quilting.

You don't have to quilt the entire thing super dense, but you do need to balance the level of stitching over the surface. 

Another alternative is simply not to stitch the white sections quite so dense.  If you can open up the quilting in those areas, you won't risk turning the quilt into cardboard and being forced to quilt the whole thing on a small scale.

Really it's all down to playing and experimenting.  You can't know how the fibers will react until you start quilting them.  If in the end, those red sections are bubbling and rippling, slap some more stitching in those areas and make them behave!

Now we have one last question from Christine from email:

Is cotton really the easiest thing to use in a quilt?

Full question: I'm a novice at free motion quilting, but I quilted a small throw with stippling a few months ago, so I know that I know how to do it.  I'm quilting another small quilt now and wanted to do stippling again, but whenever I tried I got these crazy loops and knots under the fabric.  I tried practicing more with two pieces of scrap fabric and batting, changing the thread, using different needles, and it never practicing went fine, but whenever I tried to do it on the quilt, I got incredible knots.  I finally noticed that the segment of the quilt I was quilting on was made of something synthetic, like polyester.  I tried doing some stippling on a  part that I knew was cotton, and it went fine.  That's what I get for fabric shopping in a hurry with my kids - I grabbed the wrong kind of fabric!

Is polyester really harder to quilt through?  Are there any tips to help it go better?  Or should it make no difference at all?

Short answer: cotton really is the easiest thing to work with.  It's not that polyester is so difficult, it's that the stretch and slide of different fibers are simply more tricky to work with.

Here's an interesting story: a few years ago I taught a class at Myrtle Beach Quilt Party and one student had endless problems.  Her machine seemed determined to eat her fabric, and no matter what we tried, she simply couldn't produce decent looking stitches in class.

She went home and just happened to check the fabric her squares were cut from.  It was black and looked like cotton, but with a bit of a tug, it became obvious this was stretchy swimsuit fabric!

I'm not sure why these materials are harder to work with for free motion quilting.  It may be something to do with the stretch and pull of fabric against the needle.

No, I don't think all poly blends are off limits, though they're certainly not ideal.  If you happen to have a lot of this kind of fabric, just make sure to starch it twice before quilting.  This way you will eliminate most of the stretch out of the fabric and hopefully most of the issues as well.

That's it for this week!  I'm headed back upstairs to continue ripping the face and hair off Emergence.  Hmm...that sounds a bit gruesome doesn't it!

Let's go quilt,


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Quilt Along #22 - Quilt Name Tag

It's Wednesday again and time to learn something new on the Free Motion Quilt Along!

Way back in May I posted a question to Facebook asking for suggestions on things to learn.  One of the most requested topics was how to create a name tag for the back of your quilt.

Of course, there are millions of ways to create a name tag, and yes, many are far simpler than the method I'm teaching today.  This is simply my favorite method of creating a really unique tag for those extra special quilts so let's learn how it works!

This method of creating a turned edge using freezer paper and starch was inspired by Sharon Schamber, a master quilter and amazing teacher of advanced quilting techniques. Click here to find Sharon's site.

Now one little step that unfortunately had to be cut out of the video due to length was the tips about marking the tag with your information.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

When writing on fabric, it's always good to test and make sure you're working with a pen that won't bleed or smudge when either wet or dry.  Personally I use Micron Pigma Pens and find the 3 point to be a very nice size.

You'll want to take a minute to heat set this ink with a hot, dry iron to make sure the marks are totally set in the fabric and won't run when they get wet.

If you're worried about the pen or marker you plan to use, simply run a test!  Mark a square of white fabric and get it wet, then mark another and heat set and get it wet.  See how things react and experiment to see what works and what doesn't!

As for the information you choose to write on your tag, most quilts can be tagged with just the quilt name, date completed, and your name.

If you plan to show your quilt, you will need to include a lot more information such as address, phone number, website, and email address. 

If you're worried about making all this information look really good, simply type it all up in a Word file and print it out on a sheet of paper.  Use a lightbox or glass door to transfer the typed words onto your white fabric.

So that's it for this week!  I hope you'll find some time this week to pull out fabric, make a small name tag, and ensure you'll get credit for your quilts for years to come.

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 (, but the link to the specific post:

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!

Let's go quilt!

Leah Day

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Emergence Part 8 - Returning

Wasn't this quilt finished back in December?  Wasn't this project declared closed 6 months ago?

Short answer: No.

Emergence is a quilt I started last September which was designed to combine elements of a terrible dark quilt called Sinkhole and a bright, beautiful goddess design called Emergence.  Today I'm taking a look back at this quilt and the reasons why I slapped it on the wall unfinished in the middle of the night in the dead of winter and have mostly hated it ever since.

Yep, this is one of my emotional, TMI posts so if you'd rather not read on, please feel free to catch up on your modern quilt project today instead!

So why have I hated this quilt?

free motion quilting | Leah Day

Way back in September when I was planning this quilt, I made one serious mistake: I rushed the design.

Rather than stand back and allow ideas and plans to flow, rather than test some samples of fabric and thread, rather than challenge myself with new techniques, I instead rushed the process.

I'm not sure what I was in such a giant hurry for.  Maybe I was in a hurry to learn this lesson!

Because this quilt has been a very big lesson.  Looking at it on my wall every single day for every single meal (it hung in my dining room), by now I've pinpointed exactly what I don't like about this quilt:

#1 - The goddess - she was meant to be the brightest, most beautiful goddess emerging from that sinkhole of darkness.  However, without a sample to test thread color, she ended up bleeding into the background.  Even stitched in light silver thread, the big feathers that fill her body are simply not as dense as the heavy quilting filler designs around her.

Her face is the only area the really shows up well, which is unfortunate because I wasn't brave enough to stitch in her actual face (eyes, mouth, nose), so she's more of a feathered monster than anything else.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
It doesn't help that the hair I choose to add isn't really hair, but couched threads.  These look nice, but again, they just didn't have the visual impact I was going for.

In truth, this goddess should have been appliqued.  Her body and her hair should have been appliqued to the surface of the quilt before quilting so she would have actually shown up after all that thread was stitched on the surface.

#2 - the background - Another rushed aspect of this design was the background.  Yes, I fiddled with the design a bit, but for fear of distracting from the goddess, I didn't fill up the background with motifs and designs.  Instead it's wide open, stitched to the hilt, and personally I find it very boring. 

About the only thing I actually like on this quilt is the Sinkhole and the Sun, which are two polar opposites.  The sun admittedly does need work.  The rays really do need to be secured down to the surface so they don't flop about.

Looking at all these complains, you might be wondering if it wouldn't be easier to just start over from scratch.

But here's another lesson that I'm learning from this quilt: it's one thing to not like something, to feel unsatisfied by the finished quilt.  It's another thing to be ready to do something about it.  Not scrap it and start from the beginning, but a willingness to return to the problematic quilt itself, to rip and stitch, and take the time required to make it right.

Way back at the end of December, I knew I wasn't satisfied with this quilt.  I sat on the couch for several days hand stitching the binding and mostly felt apathy for this project.

So in the middle of the night, with the binding only half finished, I hung it on the wall.  I had a feeling that night that it wouldn't come off the wall until I was ready to fix the issues that bothered me, and I left it unfinished so I would have to come back to work on it some day.

It may be that I needed these 6 months, that I needed distance from this project and all that it represents.

In a purely symbolic way, this quilt represents my emergence from my past: from my abusive childhood and the three people - my mother and two sisters - who made me feel stupid, worthless, ugly, and unwanted.

It is the feeling of being unwanted that has been the hardest to overcome.  I was the third mistake, the icing on the cake, between two people that should never have stayed together for 30 years.  I was not looked for, sought out, or wanted.  I was a mistake.

While this may seem like a simple, silly thing to worry about, it has caused me to question my right to exist. It has never helped that I grew up with three abusive women who never missed a chance to put my unwantedness into clear perspective.

But recently my perspective has started to change. Maybe it's having 2 years of space from those who hurt me.  Maybe it's my dedication to yoga and living in the present.  Or maybe I'm just tired of trying to prove my worth and I'm finally ready to accept a new line of thinking.

Because that's something I've learned: you can change your thoughts.  You can decide to stop thinking a certain way, to make up your mind in another direction, and to let go of the negative thoughts that dig and destroy.

Last night I thought about Emergence and what this quilt is meant to represent and I returned to that feeling of stubborn dissatisfaction.

But this time rather than allow that feeling to depress me, I asked myself one question "What can you change about this quilt so you will like it again?"

What can you change?  What can be ripped out or stitched over?  Can anything be done to improve this situation?

Six months ago, tired and frustrated, my answer would have been no.  No, I'm tired.  No, I don't want to work on this any more.

Today, however, I'm not tired, I'm not frustrated.  I'm not even angry at this quilt for not living up to my expectations.

Instead, I feel energized and excited - I have the power to change this quilt.  I have the skill to rip out stitches, to applique new fabric over the surface, and to quilt it again if that's what's needed.  I have the ability to turn this project around and create something I'm proud of.

So maybe this was all meant to happen.  Maybe this is what Emergence is all about: a lesson to change my thinking, and from that simple alteration, to find the space and ability to restitch my world.

Let's go make something beautiful today,


Monday, July 9, 2012

Hiking and Spinning

Today Josh and James and I rolled out of bed and decided we needed to get out of the house.  Working at home combined with James being out of school has finally started to wear in a big way.

We packed up and headed for South Mountain State Park, which is only 30 minutes away from home and one of the most beautiful (and gloriously empty) places to hike in NC.

For a quilter, hiking presents a pretty obvious dilemma - you can't hike and quilt at the same time.  

It's just a bit too tricky to space perfect stitches when climbing over big boulders and giant steps carved into the mountain.

But today I was able to test my ability to spin and walk at the same time.  I knew from books like The Red Tent that it is possible to spin while walking, and that in fact women in some countries and throughout history have spun continuously throughout their daily chores, but I'd never tried it before.

So today when Josh was packing food and water bottles, I was packing my smallest, lightest weight spindle and a pack of pretty blue wool.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
I figured in the event I got worn out before the guys, I could plop down on a park bench and sit and spin while they walked ahead.  But then I made the mistake of getting the spindle started and the feeling of the soft combed wool sliding through my fingers (literally feels like butter) was just too nice to resist.

Rather than put the spindle away, I began walking and quite easily fell in to a nice rhythm of spinning short segments of wool, then winding them on the spindle as we worked our way up the mountain.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Eventually the terrain got a bit too rocky and unsteady to multitask this way.  James's short little legs didn't need much help going up the mountain, but they sure needed a lot of help back down.

Still, I feel that I've stumbled across a terrific new way to fit more spinning time into my daily routine.  In normal (cooler) weather, I really enjoy walking a mile or two in the morning.  From now on, I'm going to try to combine that mile with a bit of wool and see what spins out of it.

Let's go play with yarn, fabric, or thread!


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Duchess Reigns #3: Learning New Techniques

One step step back.  That's a good description of how I'm progressing with the new version of The Duchess.  However while this might be seen as negative, it's actually working out quite well because it's the exact opposite of rush-through-pell-mell-and-hate-the-quilt-at-the-end, which is my normal way of creating big quilts.

While yes, I had finalized the design, and yes, I'd printed it out large scale ready to get started, looking at it on my design wall I had to admit that there were aspects of the design that still bothered me.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Seeing the quilt on a design wall really helps to put it all into perspective
So this time I sat down with a piece of paper and sketched out the changes I'd like to make with a pencil.  I also began the process of intertwining the feathers in the corners, which turns out definitely should be planned because they're so complex.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
While working on these design tweeks, I also began thinking of some new techniques I'd like to try with this quilt.  In 2008, the original Duchess pushed every limit of my quilting ability.  It was enormously challenging, but I learned so much during the process that I loved every minute of it.

For this quilt, I'd really like to have the same experience so I began thinking of techniques I'd like to learn and take the time to master with this quilt.

Almost immediately I remembered Sharon Schamber and her tutorials on inset cording and loopy corded binding.  These techniques are finicky, highly detailed, but they produce an incredible effect on the finished quilt.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
For this sample, I haven't worked hard to make the colors match or even finish all the loops. 
So for the last week or so I've mostly moved from watching her DVDs to the sewing room, creating a sample to learn these techniques.

The finished technique is supposed to result in the quilt being see-through in these areas:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Creating this sample was a great test of the technique, but I still feel like I need more experience before jumping into the big quilt top.  I only have a limited amount of red fabric for this quilt so these techniques need to be 100% solid before starting on the real quilt.

The second technique creates a loopy corded binding, and for this tutorial the DVD is extremely clear and easy to follow.  Unfortunately the quilt I'm applying my cords to will have a curved binding, which is going to work a bit differently from the straight edged example quilt.

It will take some fiddling, but I plan to practice both techniques on a larger sample of the real quilting designs used in The Duchess Reigns.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
So that's what I'm busy with today!  After printing out this new sample pattern, I'm going to give these techniques another try.  Mostly I need to double check that I'm comfortable enough with the steps that I don't totally mess up the real quilt.

This sample will also give me a chance to play with thread colors and fillers I plan to use on the real quilt.  It might be time consuming and in the end the sample might wind up in the trash, but it pays to play on something small and reasonable before tackling the big quilt.

I'm off to learn something new and challenging today!


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Question Thursday #21

It's Question Thursday and...well... you guys aren't asking any questions!  Maybe I'm doing too good of a job with the modern quilt project, or the questions just haven't hit you yet.

Regardless, I dug around a bit and came up with a few questions to answer for you today.  In the comments of yesterday's post, Jessim asked:

What kind of drape does the quilt have? It is looser than your dense fillers, but still seems pretty dense for a throw.

Here's a rather zen-like answer: scale is infinite.

You can quilt as loose or as dense as you like on ANY quilt project.

This means that whatever drape you want your quilt to have, all you need to do is determine the minimum amount of quilting required to achieve that drape, and only quilt that much.

This might require a bit of experimentation (quilt 12 inch squares on various scales until you find the optimum distance between the lines of quilting that is secure enough to hold the quilt together), but ultimately scale is something YOU determine every time you sit down at your machine.

As for my particular demo quilt - I quilted on a 1/2 inch scale, meaning 1/2 inch was spaced (on average) between the lines of quilting.

To some quilters, this is dense.  To other quilters, this is loose.

Personally, I find this a comfortable scale for quilting on a domestic sewing machine because it's not so huge that I'm making giant sweeping motions, which can be quite tricky to maintain balance on a small machine, but not so tiny that it takes 3 months to finish the quilt.

I also find this scale produces a soft, nicely draped quilt, but again, this is my opinion.

You'll just have to play and experiment in order to find the drape you want on your quilt!

 Next let's answer a question that wasn't really a question from bushgirl62 from YouTube:

How will this modern quilt be received at a quilt show?

Actual Comment: I was thinking of entering the quilting class at next year's local show and this modern quilting really appeals to me. Not sure if our show judges would know what to make of this but something new and different encourages people to try things.

I'll be honest, I have no idea how a judge will respond to this type of modern quilt.

From experience of showing quilts, this quilt isn't something that is going to immediately hit a judge as a show winner.  It's random, it's "badly" pieced (as in wonky and irregular), and it's anything but traditional.

It honestly depends on the particular set of judges more than anything else.  Sometimes you'll get a pair that loves traditional quilts, sometimes you'll get a pair that loves something different.  The key is not to take a judge's opinions personally or let them dictate how you should make your next quilt.

For example: I once received a criticism for using only white thread on Winter Wonderland.  Dude!  It's a white and gray quilt!  What other thread color am I going to use???

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Some opinions are best chucked out with the trash.  They'll honestly make you crazy, and ultimately, who's quilt is it anyway?

Now for more of my opinion on showing (bear in mind I am NOT a judge): I personally believe the quality of workmanship is the most important key.  Just because the blocks are wonky doesn't mean they should be sloppy with loose threads and gaps in the piecing.  Always piece blocks together with a tight stitch (1.5mm or so) and good quality cotton thread (I'm currently in love with Aurifil 50 wt. mako cotton).

The best place to shine with the modern quilt project is in your quilting.  Breaking the quilt up with the Zen Break is unique and different, and probably not something a judge has seen a million times.  Filling them with different designs will also get you credit, but again, it's definitely a unique take on quilting because it totally ignores the piecing design.

So if you want to enter a quilt show, yes, by all means sign up with your modern quilt!  However, don't be hurt if it doesn't ribbon.  It might simply be too "out there" for the judges to accept, even if your piecing and quilting are superb.

If showing and winning is your ultimate goal, a safer bet would be to enter with a wholecloth.  They're not super common, always beautiful, and show off a slightly in-your-face awesomeness that rarely gets ignored.

That's it for this week!  Get in your sewing room and stitch something weird so you'll come up with some good questions to ask next week!

Let's go quilt,


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Quilt Along #21: Filling a Modern Quilt

Are we having fun yet?!  I really hope you're having fun with this modern quilting project!

This week we're going to finish up this project by filling each section of our Zen Break with a different design.  So far this year we've learned Stippling, Sharp Stippling, Zippling, Circuit Board, and Loopy Line.  Each of these designs can be used to easily fill a section of the quilt like this:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
But photos only do so much.  Let's see how this works in a video!

free motion quilting | Leah Day
If you're looking for even more easy, beginner level designs to play with, check out the ebook From Daisy to Paisley which features 50 beginner level designs! Click Here to check it out now.

 Let's start with a quick review:

In Quilt Along #19 we learned how to piece our blocks in a super wonky fashion.

In Quilt Along #20 we learned how to put them together and break them up with a simple Zen Break - a wiggly line that divides the quilt randomly so it can be quilted with multiple designs.

This week we have a very easy job: fill in each section with a different design!

Because the quilt is largely secured thanks to the Zen Break, you can start quilting anywhere you like.  No, you don't have to quilt from the dead center of the quilt, unless you really like to.

It's a good idea to take a minute before jumping on the machine to look at your quilt and decide how you will move over the surface.  With this quilt, you really can move from section to section easily by simply travel stitching over the Zen Break lines.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Easily wiggle from the Stippling area to Zippling area by stitching on the Zen Break lines
Another thing you might want to put some planning into is where each design goes.  Yes, this quilt is supposed to be a lesson in imperfection, but I still get obsessive about having two identical designs smacked right next to one another.  I penciled in names of the designs so I wouldn't end up with a Stippling section right next to another Stippling section.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
Once you get that small bit of planning out of the way, stick that quilt under your needle and get started!  The goal here is to fill each space consistently, but in a logical fashion so you don't end up locked in a corner.

Of course, if you do get locked in a corner, what do you do?  Travel stitch back out!  Find the nearest Zen Break line and use it to get out of a tight space if needed.

The only design that's a bit tricky to apply is Circuit Board.  This design isn't wiggly, and it's based on straight lines and right (90 degree) angles.  This particular design is trickier to apply to wiggly wobbly areas, so it helps to mark some straight lines that serve as a base for this design.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
So that's it for this quilt.  Just take these five designs and stitch them in each section of this quilt. Now I'm going to shut up so you can go quilt it!

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 (, but the link to the specific post:

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!

Let's go quilt!

Leah Day

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