Monday, April 23, 2018

My Talking Quilt

Do you have conversations with your quilt?  I do.  Sometimes my side of the conversation needs some cleaning up, but we do converse.  When I stitch nicely my quilt dances.  When I try to go my own way my quilt chastises me.

I draw my designs out on tracing paper, but I forgot something.  I filled in all the spaces and it looked so nice on paper, but when I began to stitch I realized that if I fill all those spaces with stitches, there will be no puff.  Empty spaces don't look good on paper, but they look beautiful on a quilt.  My quilt agrees, "YES!"  See below.  I filled one side with the pebbles, but the remaining un-quilted sides showed me that the fill was no good.  Have you ever ripped out pebbles?

Pebbles = No Puff
My designs are drawn with pencil on paper that is basically white so there are still thread color choices to make.  I thought I had them all worked out, but the quilt disagreed.  I have tried all ideas and threads on the scrap sandwich, but it is different when translated to the actual quilt.

Here is our conversation regarding the latest motif:

Quilt:  "Get rid of the black thread.  It makes me feel dirty and depressed." (no photo)

Me:  "OK.  It is gone.  I will use red."

The upper motif is filled with red and a diagonal grid.
Quilt:  "Ick.  It doesn't show.  Now I feel completely invisible.  I know you didn't plan on using orange thread, but I think that is the answer to make me feel alive.  The diagonal grid is bad."

Me:  "OK.  Red is gone.  I give up.  Orange it is and I'll change the grid."

Quilt:  "I LOVE it.  Now I can dance. I can fly. I will be noticed.  I love being surrounded by gold.  I feel like a queen."

Success!  You can't see the puff on the lower motif, but it makes a nice frame.
(photo slightly distorted)
I was ripping out the curved, diagonal grid (see the other photo) on the upper motif and noticed that the vertical seam in the middle really disrupted puff.  I changed the grid to vertical instead of diagonal with the center grid line on the seam, and worked out to the sides.  Now the seam doesn't even show.  The gold metallic pebbles don't shine in the photo, but they are a real WOW factor.

TIP:  Keep your seam ripper, scissors and tweezers close at hand.  Don't be lazy and leave it if the quilt begins to scream at you.  The more you ignore the quilt's conversation the more ripping, or the less you will love your quilt.

I hate to rip as much as the next person, but I will continue to do so if it doesn't look right.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you perseverance to achieve your goals.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Ripping Orange

I told you about my tension troubles and the resulting need to rip.  The thread that needed to come out is all orange.  It was a tedious task and needed to be carefully done.  I am so glad that I had stitched the seams in the ditch.  I didn't have to worry about distortion.  I spent three evenings watching free Amazon Prime movies with an Ott-light glowing over the quilt on my lap.  The first two movies were very enjoyable.  The third I was glad to shut off when the last stitch came out, I don't intend to watch the rest of it.  I am now off and stitching again and this time the tension is right and it looks like it is supposed to look.

Before sitting down to sew, I got down on the floor and pulled up all the loose thread flying around so it won't wrap around the vacuum cleaner brush.

The ironing board is a trap for all things extraneous.  Note to self:  Do something about it!

Dinner is left-overs.  Can't let them go to waste.

A little bit of housecleaning.  Not much.  I don't want to get addicted.

Keep the brain creating.  Photoshop has a new Technical Preview so I slowed down briefly to learn how to use it.  This could be a real time usurper, but I may be able to translate it to quilts or quilting in some form or another.

Butterfly Mandala

Physical Therapy is helping a bum arm.  Hiking helps to restore my whole body. I am accomplishing all kinds of dumb stuff that has been sitting around for weeks.

Mailed a quilt off to hang in the Utah Quilt and Sewing Marketplace Show.  It is a non-juried show, but the quilts are judged and ribbons and prizes awarded.  We'll see how it goes first weekend in May in Sandy, UT.  If you go to the show, say "Hi" to my quilt.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you time to get lots done and have fun.

PS.  Photo from last week's hike.

Mills Lake, Rocky Mountain NP

PSUtah Quilting & Sewing Marketplace

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Thing About Thread

I cannot offer a master class on thread.  If I have questions I turn to Superior threads and their great chart.  Of course it is only for Superior threads, which are excellent threads.  I have one store an hour away that carries some of their threads, but I often have to order from the company.  They have thread cards with actual samples so you can accurately judge colors, for a price of course.  However, I also use threads that are more available in the stores.  In the end you have to choose what you like and what will look best on your quilt.

On my current quilt I am using Isacord (polyester).  I was stitching away having a great time and very pleased with the results using Isacord on top and Superior Bottom Line in the bobbin.  When I had a thread that wouldn't pull to the top, I turned the quilt over and almost cried:  the tension was wacko.  I had those little thread pokies on every sharp turn of my feathers, and the micro-stippling (silk and Bottom Line) looked like a starry sky on the back because there were so many pokies that were long. This happens when the upper tension is too loose so the bobbin pulls the upper thread visibly to the back.  I tightened the tension and played with it a bit on my sample scrap, but it didn't help.  Re-threading the machine and changing the needle was no help either.  Next I spoke to my professional quilter daughter who suggested I put cotton in the bobbin.  So I put the quilt away for 24 hours!

Thread pokies on the back of the quilt. Anathema to judges.

Next day, fresh and ready to tackle the problem I ripped out the stippling and used Aurafil cotton thread top and bottom.  Not only was normal tension fine, it looked so much better.  The stippling texture is more visible now than it was with silk on top and I really like the way it looks both front and back, even though it is black on black on the front.

The tiny feathers were next.  The front looked fine, but the back was too sloppy to suit me.  I still want to use Isacord because I love the sheen, so I decided to use it both top and bottom.  Beautiful!  I'll have to do some ripping, but it will be worth it.

Quilt back.  Stippling redone and good.
Feather imperfections circled in white:  pokie, bump, loop.

TIP:  This is strictly my own opinion.  I was told by my machine dealer that Bottom Line has a little elasticity and when it relaxes after being stretched in the stitching process it puts too much tension on the top thread and pulls it through.  I haven't talked to the Superior Thread company, but if I use Bottom Line again I will do a more thorough test run before stitching my quilt.  Isacord is not a Superior brand thread and my machine is clearly unhappy when I try to match it with Bottom Line.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you no tension mismatches, no bumps, loops or pokies.

Monday, April 2, 2018


Excitement:  "A feeling of great enthusiasm and eagerness." (from my Mac dictionary).

If you are a quilter or creator you are very familiar with this feeling.  Starting a new project.  Designing a new project.  Starting a new portion of a project.  Rejecting a failed project and, yes, starting all over from scratch.  A cleaned up sewing room.  I could go on and on.  lf you are a passionate artist you know what I am talking about.

After spending a week sewing with pencil and tracing paper, I was finally ready and excited to start sewing with a needle.  A poor start meant a few ripped stitches instead of an eraser, but once I got going I was thrilled to see my designs come to life.  So exciting!  This quilt will be a palette for quilting and will be heavily stitched.  It will have very little puff, but lots of texture.  It will be one of those "cardboard" quilts, but my piecing design does not lend itself to big, soft, quilted puffs.

The start.  Pinwheel star waiting for thread so not done yet.

TIP:  Practice your quilting for 15 minutes if you haven't done it for awhile.  Keep a scrap sandwich for this purpose, knowing that it only works if you use it for some practice.  Do as I say, not as I did!  I made a mistake early on, but only needed to rip out a couple of inches so it wasn't a big deal...this time.

It is truly exciting to see the designs come to life under the needle.  It was even exciting to take down the card table on which I did my drawing.  Now I have some breathing space around me.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you time to spend with something exciting.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Inspiration Needed!

Oh my.  Here is Monday again and I have no post and no inspiration except that my walk this morning was so lovely:  clouds, fog, blue sky and sunshine intermingling and frisking around the mountains.

I finished my SID (stitch in ditch).  I thought it would take forever, but it didn't and now it is done.

I tried something new this time by designing my quilting on a 15 x 15 inch version of my quilt from the computer.  I drew what I thought was a really nice design.  However, when I compared the drawing to the full sized quilt it was clear that my designs were no good on the larger format.  Back to the drawing board, literally.

The drawing table.  Designs still subject to lots of changes.
I printed out one quarter of the quilt full sized.  This took quite a few pieces of paper and the time to tape them together.  I stapled tracing paper over the top and sat down with audiobook, pencil, eraser and a few ideas.  When you get one idea going, others begin to flow.  I find it relaxing to draw.  Another day or two and I will be ready to actually stitch.  I have tried out a few ideas with needle and scraps and so far they are satisfying.  I don't think the quilting will get tedious because I will be doing lots of different things.

This is all part of sewing a quilt.  I drag it out.  I don't do deadlines so what is the hurry?

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you time to play, reflect and create.

PS.  A photo from this week's lower elevation hike.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Why Stitch in the Ditch?

Why stitch in the ditch (SID)?  Well, you don't HAVE to, so let's review the choices that impact the decision.

Have you ever noticed what a tied quilt looks like?  Big, fluffy bunches between ties.  Same thing happens when a sandwich is pinned with safety pins.  This is not bad or good.  It just is.  It looks like this photo of the ice from my hike last week:

The ice on Dream Lake.  The wind blows it as it freezes,
but we still hiked across the lake on the ice.
The question is:  Are your seams going to bubble up this way?  Do you like the piecing seams to behave this way?  They will if you are quilting designs into areas defined by the seams.  On the other hand, an all-over design will cross seams in an irregular way and keep them from bunching and creating unsightly ridges.

So...why bother?
Stabilization.  Basting will stabilize your quilt.  I hate basting, but I do pin.  I SID to stabilize the quilt before doing the fancy quilting.  The pins can all be removed and there is no worry about the quilt going wonky when you are concentrating on the decorative free motion quilting (FMQ).  Once the quilt is stabilized you can work anywhere you want without distortion.  I stitch with Superior MonoPoly thread (clear or smoky) for SID.  This can be a great way to learn to control your FMQ technique.  You can also use any thread of a color that disappears into your fabrics.  For straight lines and borders I use my duel feed foot, and it is awsome. It gobbles up excess fabric and smooths it all into the puff.

No bubbly seams, tucks or puckers.  I have 28 pieces in each block of my quilt and they will mostly be quilted with enclosed designs.  I do not want seam ridges so I am SID-ing in every single seam.  Time consuming, yes, but WOW does it ever make it look nice.  My quilt would look fine with only the SID, but since I like the fancy stuff I know I won't have to worry about the antics of recalcitrant seams or tucks or puckers.

Before:  Rumpledy, bumpledy before SID

After:  All seams stitched down.
Straight borders.  Borders look best when they are nice and straight.  Show judges will nail you for crooked borders every time.  SID will set the borders nice and straight from the get-go whether you quilt on them or not.

You want to show your quilt.  Take careful note of all of the above because the judges will be looking for straight seams and borders, smooth curves, no crumples and perfection in the hanging.  This is impacted by blocking after all is done, but you can't block out internal wiggles after they are set in stone....errr thread.  They will notice the track of your SID especially any stitches that stray from the ditch, so if you choose to do it, learn and practice to do it well.  There are many online tutorials so I am not going into the "how to."

Don't bother:
If your quilt will be a "dragger" to be loved and washed repeatedly.  It won't matter.  The exception would be if you choose to do all the quilting SID and don't want to mess with the fancy stuff.

If you are going to quilt an all-over design that tramples and ignores seams.  In this case the seams generally disappear into the quilting motifs.

If you don't show your quilts.

If you don't care....and that is OK.  It is your quilt.  Do what suits your style, your time, your passion.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you time to practice some stitching-in-the-ditch.
PS.  Last week's hike:
Hallet and Flattop peaks from Dream Lake.  Rocky Mountain NP.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Pinning the Sandwich

Last week I wrote about how I will mark the black border on my quilt.  Seredipitously (is that a word?) Jenny Lyons of Quilt Skipper wrote her blog last week on marking black fabric.  She did a lot of research on numerous markers and her discoveries are well worth reading.  Guess what:  her choice is the Sewline pencil...same as mine!  Always nice to be validated.

I have spent the last couple of weeks doing just about everything except sewing although I got my quilt sandwiched and pinned.  I have a long, narrow table (22" x 60") fitted up as an ironing surface, but when it comes to putting my sandwich together I take all the cushy covering stuff off and work right on the plywood so I don't pin the ironing cover into my quilt.  How do I pin a quilt on such a narrow surface?  It is not hard.

1.  I carefully mark the center of my table with two pins covered by masking tape so I can feel them through the fabric.  That way backing, batting and quilt top are all in the right place in the center.  

Pins secured to mark center and touch sensitive.
TIP:  Batting and backing should be at least 2 inches bigger than the quilt top on all sides.

2.  Use office clips to secure the backing to the table centering it over the pins.  Align the ends exactly parallel with the table ends and perpendicular with the long edges of the table.  I also have pencil marks on the plywood as guides.  Secure the backing fabric snug and smooth, but don't stretch it tight.  If necessary use painter's tape to secure places where you can't use clamps (the end of my table).

Office clamp in place.
3.  Add the batting.  Center it over the pins and make sure the edges are straight.  Pat it out gently to eliminate all the bumps.  DO NOT STRETCH.

4.  Follow the same procedure in placing the quilt top.  Be sure it is centered, straight and does not overlap the edges of backing and batting.  Smooth it.

5.  Now the fun begins!  Starting at the center place safety pins 2-4 inches apart, working out toward both sides, top and bottom.

6.  Now the tricky part.  When you have covered all you can with pins, fold the top and batting toward you as far as the pins allow.  Undo all the office clamps, front and back.  Now carefully slide the whole thing toward you the width of the table and once again clamp the backing to the back of the table.  Unfold the batting and pat it down.  Everything nice and smooth.  Gently lay the quilt top over the batting.  No need to clamp the forward part of the quilt because the pins add enough weight to maintain adequate tension on the backing.

7.  Pin your heart out and repeat if necessary.  When half of the quilt is pinned let it drop off the back of the table.  Smooth and clamp the backing to the front of the table, pat the batting and quilt top down and pin.

All pinned (clamps are for the photo only to keep it from slipping
now that the job is all done).  Light spots are sun from the window above.
When I am done I toss the pinned quilt upside down on my bed to make sure I have no puckers in the backing.  I have never had any.  The only downside is having to take the ironing cover and padding off and replacing it, but what a great opportunity to wash it if necessary.

8.  The final step is to fold the excess batting and backing over the quilt top edges, enclosing the batting within the backing fabric.  Pin it down.  This keeps the batting from leaking fibers all over the quilt. See the fibers on the black fabric above?  It can be a mess.  I use a lint roller constantly as I quilt.

An aside:  Clearly, I use pins.  I do not like the adhesives or fusible because I don't trust them.  I wrestle my quilt all over the place when I quilt on my domestic machine and dread the horror of anything that might not hold together. I also secure all the seams with stitching in the ditch with invisible thread.  All the pins, except the edge come out when that is done so the quilt isn't so heavy and the fancy quilting is much easier.

Sew some happy seams this week.  Remember, you don't have to crawl all over the floor to pin a quilt sandwich (unless you want to).

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Dead Space

Some weeks it seems that nothing gets done.  We pulled out some boxes, unpacked them, photographed everything, put the photos into a pdf and sent it off to our daughters to find out who wanted what.  The house is a stack of boxes and packing paper. The floors need attention, but I made my high fiber, sourdough bread and the bathroom is clean. What more can a girl ask?

Sewing machine went to the shop, down the canyon almost an hour away.  Next day DH picked it up and nothing had been wrong with my repairman says.  The "broken" button is working OK now, so I just feel foolish, but that button didn't work when I took it in!!!!

Finished quilting the dog, but not completely happy.  Learning.

Measured my quilt top.  All measurements varied, but the average for both directions was exactly the same.  That's what happens when there are so many pieces.  I'll have to be careful to keep my quilting even.  It is ready to sandwich.  Yay!

I topped the week off with a hike.  Add that to the 1/2 mile dog walk and I clocked 4 miles that day.  Really stiff the next day, but it is getting better.  We had a bluebird day, some snow and ice on the trail, but a magnificent time outdoors with my sister.

Gem Lake iced over.  Lenticular clouds that I wanted to pet.
Partial view from the trail.  This is where I live!
Not much sewing, but there are some weeks like that, and my brain has been busy.  My ancestry takes me back into the nobility of England, Europe, Scandinavia and Russia.  My great grandfather from England had a coat of arms (COA) of which he was most proud.  I became interested in the art of heraldry from seeing a bookplate of his COA, and found that I could create one that incorporated many appropriate families from my ancestry.  There are strict rules as to which families you can display.  Anyhow, you can see my digital rendition on my other, lazy, blog with a brief explanation.  I think it would be fun to make a quilt of this.  Each block would be 6-7 inches square.  I will appliqué, paint, stencil and piece.  I don't know whether this is do-able or not, but I'll have fun dreaming, planning and trying it out.  It will probably be a lifetime piece.

Sew some happy seams this week.  Give yourself permission to get outdoors, play, dream and create.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Marking Plans

I was asked last week how I will mark my quilt so here goes.  I made some changes to my design, but only added some more detail.  Then I drew it all over again!  By drawing the design on paper you build muscle memory, but it is not quite the same as working on the machine.  In the recent issue of AQS magazine RaNae Merrill has an article on how to use a plastic guide to practice your quilting before you try it on the machine.  Next, using sandwiched samples you practice your design with the sewing machine before you let the needle puncture your quilt.

I made templates of the shapes that have to be perfect.  Shapes that I can't free motion without a guide.  I had a bunch of poster board that I don't  anticipate using in the next 50 years so I drew the template shapes on them, except for one.  I don't know, but suspect that template plastic is more expensive and certainly less available in my small town.

Templates for internal shapes in my design.
The one template that is made from plastic shows 1/4 inch guidelines that mirror the outer shape (the curved triangle-ish one above).  This will be used to mark the grid that will fill it.  I don't have the fancy rulers being used for ruler work, nor do I have the necessary foot.  I can do this just fine without them as long as I have a drawn line to follow.

1/4" guide for a grid.  I'll clean off the pencil smears before using it.
I find I can follow lines with the needle quite well, but I can draw them better by hand, so I mark anything that has to be fairly perfect.  I need to mark this design (scroll down to last week to see the unfinished drawing) on an 8 inch black border.
     *Blue wash-away pen won't show.
     *Purple air-dry pen won't show.
     *Pouncing chalk makes a mess and smears.
     *White pen does not work for me.  It always disappears too quickly.
     *Frixion pens leave chemicals that come out to play if the quilt gets cold (winter mail).
     *I hate messing with that thin tissue you can sew through and find it imprecise.

My choice is my Sew-Line ceramic/chalk marker.  I love it.  It works like a mechanical pencil and rubs off if necessary. It comes with an eraser on the top, which is great for small goofs. However, if I have a big goof I put on my machine quilting gloves and rub the error out with those.  I have never had it stay if I didn't want it to.

Sewline marker and refills.
TIP:  As I mark around a template the line is a little thicker than a pencil line so when I quilt I stitch at the inside edge of marked lines.

Of course there is a downside.  It will eventually rub off as you manipulate your quilt.  The solution?  I mark as I go.  By the time I need to mark my quilt it will all be stabilized with ditch stitching. The internal part of the quilt should be totally free motion with little or no need to mark anything except grids.   For the border I will mark 1/8 of the border at a time.  At this time that is the plan.

For the feathers I mark only the spine and then do the feather loops free hand.

The feather spine is the curvy line on the bottom.  Looks strange without the
feathers, but it will do the job.
TIP:  Practice your feathers.  Soon you too will be able to mark only the stem and freehand the feathers with your needle.  You can also draw a freehand guide line for the outer edges of the feathers to keep them contained.

I am eager to get going on this and I got my batting and backing fabric, but I think I will finish my collie dog first.  She is very close to done.

Sew some happy seams this weeks.  I wish you time to practice your quilting skills this week.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Quantum Mechanics and Me

I have been reading a fascinating article about nano sized microtubules made of protein that live within our nerve cells.  They are being studied as the possible residence of quantum mechanics particles, which may be the basis of consciousness.  I know...that's a bit deep, but I am thinking that this week my quantum mechanics have taken a vacation.  I have not been sewing.  I have erased my way through pages of tracing paper trying to achieve a viable quilting design.

My sewing room, ironing board and sewing machine are under siege, covered with pencil, eraser, poster board patterns, used and unused tracing paper, a silk liner glove that needs repair and DH's dirty clothes hamper.  A card table fills the only free space in the room.  It is a mess, but when I sit at that table drawing, erasing and ultimately creating designs I am lost in contentment.  In spite of the frustrations, I can still find peace as I temporarily let the world take care of itself while I take care of me.  Those infinitely small particles in my brain are coming back into line as I scribble my way to a design that I think will complement the quilt.

180º view of my mess.  With the design complete I will once again
create order before I begin to sew.
The ideas I have lived with for over a year have not worked out to my satisfaction.  The center of the quilt has many small sections that I will quilt individually because I like their interactive shapes.  The outer reaches of the quilt leave vast spaces for quilting.  I have tried ideas for drawing desert scenes.  I have tried integrating several geometric borders.  Nada.  Now I am back to feathers.  I love feathers and so far they are looking the best to my mind as something I both like and am able to do nicely.

Design, which shows completed ideas as well as some of the trial ideas.
Taking a photo of this I see that I don't like the way the grids cut across the corner.  I have since draped the feathers over the grid so the almost straight line is broken.  I have plenty of time to review and revise as I stitch in the ditch.  This tracing paper will be pinned to my design wall.

Sew some happy seams this week.  I wish you time for contemplation to keep those quantum particles under control.