Quilter's Academy - Volume 2 - Sophomore Year

Vol 3 - Junior Year

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Project 10 Double Nine Patch Chain - Quilting

Please everyone, excuse me while I vent.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhgahhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Thank you, that feels much better.  You see, I've been quilting :)

Now I know a bad workman blames his tools (and all that), but because I'm venting, I give myself permission to rant about my sewing machine.  Don't get me wrong, my Pfaff is a wonderful machine and for dressmaking it has everything I could want, (and the purpose I bought it for) but for quilting, it could have been better designed.  I say this because my sewing machine is a Pfaff QUILT EXPRESSION 2048.  You would think that a sewing machine labelled "Quilt Expression" would have quilters in mind when it was designed.  I beg to differ.

Pfaff Quilt Expression 2048

I finished all 25 of the sunflower pattern.  Now this design turned out to be very easy to quilt and instead of having to do 4 separate runs over the pattern, I managed with just one.  Admittedly, I had to go around the design 3 times, but there were no stops.  By dragging the thread the sunflower turned out to be one easy quilting design.  I think it actually took longer to snip the dragged threads than it did to quilt the design - lol.

It maybe too hard to see in photographs, but there are lots of thread dragging going on here.

So what was the problem you're thinking?  Check out this picture...........

On the left is what's left of the needle threader after I attacked it with a quilt!

The Pfaff presser foot lifter, which is positioned on the right of the arm, instead of the back, has a special position when quilting free motion.  It sits half way down into a slot.  Theoretically, this works well, the presser foot rests lightly on top of the fabric, moving up and down with the bulk.  But look how far it sticks out to the right and how low it is when in quilting position!  If I don't want to get my quilt hung up on the lifter, I need to compress it under and to the right of it.  Considering this leaves only 4.5 inches of harp room to the right, there isn't a lot of manoeuvrability.  Added to that, it sits only 2 inches above the bed, so unless I can flatten the quilt roll to only 2 inches (unlikely) it's enviable  that there will be problems. 

Every few stitches (it seems) I would hear the THUMP of the presser foot lifter as the quilt knocked it down - jerk, stop.  Or the quilt folds would get hung up on the lifter - drag, dead stop.  Sigh.  I really don't need this aggravation!

So I finished all the free motion stuff and started on the grid.  More problems here too.  Yes, the now familiar THUMP  as the presser foot crashes down, but also a few other things.  During the course of one straight line of sewing I managed to magically unscrew the needle and the needle just fell out!  Okkaaayyy.  Next I suddenly started sewing in reverse - the reverse button is in the front of the machine, nice and handy - but the rolled up quilt in my lap (actually folded against my chest) managed to press it hard enough to engage it.  Surprise!  Hmmm.  The last straw was the program unexpectedly shifting into buttonhole.  What???  On the front of the Pfaff is a jogger dial - makes it quick and easy to select stitches, but it's also very easy to bump it.  I learned this some time ago, and 'lock' the stitch setting as a matter of course when I turn on the machine.  For some unknown reason the lock was off, the jogger was bumped to buttonhole mode and I managed to break the needle (hey it needed changing anyway).

So is all of this simply justification for buying another sewing machine?  Yes, it probably is.  I've bought a Bernina 830.   Now settle down, not the new one (I wish) - I found a vintage 830 Record on EBay and won it.  Apparently I got a really good price as the 830, manufactured in the 1970's is the last of the purely mechanical Berninas and rather coveted by collectors and sewists (I am both).  They don't come up for sale all that often, as owners love them and rarely part with them - sales are most likely to come from deceased estates by non-sewists. I'm now quite anxious that it arrives quickly and in one piece (Australia Post can be brutal)!

I still love my Pfaff (most days) it's brilliant for dressmaking and I want to try the 'antique quilting stitches' at some point (I'd love to do a crazy quilt one day).  I'm not sure how the Bernina Record will go as a quilting machine but I will surely give it a try.  Otherwise  I'll go back to my 1940 Singer 201 with it's tall harp and beautiful stitching.  I do want to use it for piecing though.  I found out recently that the wide feed dogs on my Pfaff (it does 9mm stitches) is likely to be the cause of my stitching veering to the right at the end of the seams.  The Bernina has 4mm (I think) feed dogs which I hope will overcome this problem.

I feel better now.  Thank you for listening.

Floyd is a well behaved sewing room cat.  A 2 year old Ragdoll, he is happy to sleep close by when he's not giving every new piece of fabric or batting the 'sit test'.  He prefers black fabrics (of course).

Anni, a 10 month old Maine Coon, could use lessons in cool kat behaviour.  A total klutz who has no idea of her size, she's a disaster in the sewing room.  Anything on a table is fair game to be batted to the floor and stolen away.  She loves to settle down to sleep on quilts as they are being fed through the sewing machine.

Anni is a diligent overnight quilt guard who prefers works-in-progress

Floyd however, shows a distinct preference for wool batting

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Project 10 - Double Nine Patch

Whoo Hoo - here I am at Project 10 which is well underway.  I added a single border, selected my design, marked the top, sandwiched, basted and ditch stitched it and am now ready for the free motion.

All marked up and ready for the machine

I've chosen a simple sunflower design for this, for obvious reasons.  There are 3 components to quilt with the design, the circle, the inner petals then the outer petals.  Um, actually there are 4 with the little lines on the petals and ..oh.. the griding in the centre makes 5!

I needed to use the light-box to trace this, and reassured by Harriet that it will wash out clean, I marked the top with a blue marker.  I used a Mark-Be-Gone marker and I love this!  The lines are bright, not too fine and so easy to see.  I tried it on a sample and the lines disappeared instantly when I popped it into a sink of cold water.  Not the case with the red quilter's crayon I also tested - even after an overnight soak the red markings were quite visible and had even bled into the fabric a bit.  It will need soap and I suspect some rubbing to remove the lines completely.

Sadly, I managed to dry the Mark-Be-Gone marker out and had to try other makers to finish.  I wish I could remember where I got it - I didn't even realise I had it until I went rummaging around.  The Roxanne's Quilter's Choice pencil in silver worked well and I also had another go with the Clover pencils.  I even managed to figure out why the pencils kept breaking - no I wasn't pressing too hard - the pencil leads would simply pull out of the top of the pencil as soon as I sharpened them.  In frustration I bought a Clover pencil sharpener, and the problem was solved.  Why a normal pencil sharpener causes the leads to break inside the wood I have no idea, but I think now I am covered in the marking department.

There are a total of 25 of these sunflower designs to free-motion on the quilt top.

I am a little nervous about free motion on this top, as there is lots of white space and the quilting is going to show!  There is not a lot of busy prints for my quilting to hide in, so I hope I can get it together and do a decent job.  After the sunflowers are done, I'll do a diagonal grid across the top, working through the centre of each flower.  I fiddled around with border stencils a lot until I finally decided on simple channel quilting, working diagonally from the centre of each border in opposing angles.  Drawing this up was an interesting exercise for me, getting the angles and lines to fit properly.  I hope to sort it out when the time comes to sew.

For this quilt I'm using Matilda's Own 100% cotton batting, Sew Art .004 nylon in the needle, Gutterman cotton in the bobbin and a size 70 Microtex needle, then switching to Coats & Clark Star Egyptian cotton for the border work.

The quilting essentials!

Learning from my experience with the previous quilt, where I suffered pleats and tucks, because I chose to use a basting spray and not ditch stitch first - I did an all-over SITD with this one.

Again taking advice from Harriet (and why wouldn't I, since that's what this blog's all about) I didn't use the edge foot for ditch stitching, but switched to an open toe applique foot.  Now the edge foot is great but with this foot, I can see exactly where the needle is going and finished all the SITD with (almost) no glitches.

Open toe applique foot for ditch stitching

Look Ma - no pleats!

I wanted to share the finished quilt with you all.  I can't believe how far I've come with my quilting since I did the first one - back in March I think.  It just shows what practice can do - organising the lessons so that all the quilting comes one after the other is genius - not only is my work improving, but I'm enjoying the process more and more. 

Finished, washed and laid out to dry

The little bit of stippling makes the hearts pop up

Lots of shrinkage and wrinkling with this one - unwashed fabric and cotton batting will give this look

From the back

It's still wet and pre-wrinkled!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Project 9 - Interlacing Circles - Quilting

It's done!  I think this is the most quilting I've done on a single top so far.  I stole a few hours here and there,  finished it 2 days ago and should have the binding done by now, but have been a good girl and have been busy packing boxes instead.  Been too tired to blog.

The quilting is impossible to see from the front, so I've taken the rest of the pictures from the back

The circles are all finished, and  I added some stippling to give the hearts in the centre more definition - stippling is still difficult for me, but it's better than my first attempt.  I kept going outside the area, as the lines were really hard to see, so I filled a bobbin with invisible thread, popped the cotton through the needle and flipped the quilt over.  It was much easier to work from the back and some orange chalk lines helped too.

yep - the last one is better than the first one!

Next were the three borders.  The first border is a loopy heart - fun and easy to do.

I combined this border with an 'orange peel' one - they go nicely together.

Finally, the feather cable border.  It's an open feather design, so not difficult to do.  The hard part was lining up the design at the corners.

a bit of an oops there on the cable - funny how I don't notice these until I take a photo!

This time I got some pleating and puckering on the back of the quilt.  I blame this on the basting spray, very few pins and no ditch stitching.  Another lesson learned!

Pleats & Puckers

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Project 9 - Interlacing Circles - Marker Madness

I am a woman on a mission - to find the perfect marker for me!  Today was a sewing day (yesterday and tomorrow are non-sewing days) and I spent it marking out the designs for my quilt top.

The results are pretty funny, as you will see.  Taking my cues from Harriet's last comment, I started with a  blue wash-out marker - this was good, but the marker I have is 'Fine' and the line is so delicate, it's difficult to follow without focused concentration.  With a dozen or more things to think about at once (it'll be a while before the basics become automatic) I didn't need the added extra work of struggling to see the design lines.

Ditto the ceramic pencil.  The white showed up nicely, but was invisible on the yellow, and again a very thin line which at this point, doesn't suit me.

Next was the air dry marker, but it's purple, so fairly useless with my dark blue and purple fabrics.

I picked up the new marking crayons I bought at the quilt show, but didn't try them as I haven't fabric tested them yet.

Studying the design again, I whipped out a pocket knife and opened a few of the packed boxes (I'm moving and packing for those new followers who don't know) and dug around until I found the golden threads paper.  Now I know that my last attempt at using this was less than successful, but this design doesn't have close quilting lines and shouldn't be too difficult to tear off.

I traced the design and Voila!  Lines I can see and follow easily. 

Golden Threads paper - I ended up losing the half circles and adding 4 more full circles after taking this picture.

Ok, the rest of the designs I had stencils for, so out came the ponce powder.  I ponced hearts inside all the circles.  The scallop design I had done earlier on the floral border with the ceramic pencil, ended up being too difficult to see clearly, so I replaced it with a squiggly hearts design.  The purple border got an orange peel treatment and the big outer border proudly sports the feather/cable design.

Check this out -

The whole thing is a mass of powder  - and I was worried about being able to clearly distinguish lines - LOL

I was wearing black when I did all this - I got more power on me than on the quilt!  Ok, it looks a mess, but remember that most of these lines will disappear before  I get to quilt them.  What I appreciate about stencils is, if the design fades too much or disappears, it's relatively easy to re-do them.

Fun time is over, it's time to sew!  I made up a practice sandwich which I used to practice the designs, to get the tensions right, and to warm up before starting on the quilt - a great tip from Harriet.  After 30 mins playing around, I was ready.

I'd decided not to ditch quilt this top, so I used the basting spray to hold the layers firm.  I know I've been warned against using this as it can gum up the machine, but I was worried about the layers shifting without the ditch stitching to stabilize it and took a chance with it.

The paper worked pretty well, except for it moving and getting crumpled and pleated in spots.  It even tore on the edges which I had to hold together while I stitched.  Pretty tricky!  You may have noticed in the above picture that the centre paper isn't pinned. (click on the picture to enlarge it for more detail) I missed it, which actually turned out pretty well.  I found out it's actually better to attach the paper just before sewing it.  The pinned papers got crumpled and torn just from being folded and rolled in the quilt.

Here is the first try..........

I used Sew Art nylon in the needle and Gutterman cotton in the bobbin.  The needle is a size 80 microtech which is making quite large holes.  I think I'll go down to a size 70.

Easier to see from the back

I have nine of these to do. The theory is that the last one is bound to be a major improvement on the first one, so if that's the case, I'll be pretty happy.

I find it a bit ironic that while a busy, patterned fabric can hide a multitude of beginners mistakes, not being able to see the markings well enough to follow on a busy, patterned fabric, almost guarantees mistakes!

I did 3 of these today, the rest will need to wait for a bit.  Can't wait to get the the borders, they are my favourite type of quilting.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Project 9 - Interlacing Circles - Borders & Quilt Design

Hello again!

I'm still pumped from the quilt show and have been hard at work on the next project.  First the borders.........

This is quite a small top - 27 x 27 inches, so I decided to add multiple borders to bump up the size a bit.  I had quite a few fabrics to select from - 5 from RJR  Nouveau Moonlit Garden range plus a couple of blenders. I finally decided on 3 borders.

I needed to select 3 fabrics from these 7 choices

After a lot of shuffling fabrics around, I made my choices and on went the first border......

Border 1 - this one seems to look more like an extension of the blocks than a border

Then on went the 2nd border - I was quite pleased that at this point I didn't need to seam the fabrics at all...

Border 2 - 2 inches of deep purple makes a defining border

Border 3 - a large border in a leaf print, the only fabric not used in the blocks.

I really like this design and was anxious not to spoil it.  I left it at this point, pleased with the result.    The rest of the evening was spent looking up quilting designs, wanting to find something appropriate, but still within my capabilities.

Most of today was spent playing around with stencils, practicing samples and generally getting totally confused!

A lot of stencils were tried and rejected (wrong shape/size or too difficult)

Finally, I made my decision.  First I selected a circular design I found in Jenny Carr Kinney's book, Quilting Designs from the Past.  A terrific book, it divides quilt patterns into the appropriate eras for the design of the top.  I was looking for something from the Art Nouveu period - the early 1900's.  The design I choose actually came from the 1920's - 1940's so it's more Art Deco, but for me it was close enough and a good match for the quilt top.

Lots of fiddling around on the photocopier to get the right size

Once I had this one selected, the rest just fell into place.  This is the plan...............

The centre of the circular design will have 4 hearts.
Taking a clue from Carrie's design, outside the circle will have octagonal stitching around the block.
The inner (floral border) will have half circles (hence the glass)
The outer border will have the big feather/cable stencil.

Ok, that's a fair amount of quilting (for me at least).  Marking out the design will take a day on it's own I think.  I'm trying a variety of marking tools - Clover water soluable pencil, Sewline pencil, and ponce powder.  I'm trying to avoid chalk as I'll be using a light box and won't be able to re-do the design if it rubs off (except of course for the stencils/ponce).

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Australasian Quilt Convention & Expo & and some lessons!

A brilliant time was had at the quilt show - my first as a quilter and quite an eye-opener.  The quilts of course were fabulous, and rather than being intimidating, I found them to be really inspiring.  I can now see further down the path I am travelling and seeing what is up ahead, makes me even more anxious to get along with the journey.

The Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne - a beautiful venue for the quilt expo

I took a special interest in the quilting, getting up very close to see how the experts do it.  The full gamut of styles were represented, domestic machine, longarm, computer and hand quilting (superb), traditional, free-form, ditch, echo and more which I don't have names for.  By far the most popular (by my own personal viewings) was free-form. 

As for the designs, art quilts and pictorial quilts seemed to be really popular, but there were plenty of traditional quilts as well.  Lots of applique, embroidery and embellishments featured.  I spent quite a bit of time looking at the antique quilts on display and also at the displays featuring the work of Gloria Loughman and Kim McLean - all of them breathtaking!

I took a lot of photos, but out of respect for the quilt owners, I won't post them here as I don't have permission to do so.  Many of them can be seen on the website http://www.aqc.com.au/  The winner, I am proud to say is Tasmanian Marlene King.

My hunt for products was not altogether successful, but I still managed to do my share of shopping!  My most focused hunt was for stencils but these proved to be elusive.  I asked at several trader stalls and got the same answer from most of them - "we no longer stock these as most quilters prefer to do free-form quilting or have their quilts sent out for professional quilting".  A few still carried stencils but in a very limited range and didn't bring them along to the show.  I did finally track some down - Punch with Judy had a nice range of stencils and I purchased about a dozen different designs.  Funnily enough, I had to fight for these as the stencil range proved very popular and was crowded with shoppers.  Of those I bought, most are too advanced for me, but I grabbed them anyway to put away for further down the track.  I also picked up a stencil cutter and flexi-ruler, so I can make my own at some stage.

I also picked up some marking crayons which I've not tried before

Battings, pencils and threads at the show were pretty much the same as I can buy right here in Hobart.  Battings in particular were in very short supply with few to be found amongst the stalls.  I am guessing the reason for this is lack of space, as many traders said, they are quite limited in what they can bring simply due the small size of the stalls.

Fabric of course was everywhere, visitors to the show could pretty much buy any fabric, pattern, kit or panels they desired.  I indulged a little, picking up some hand-blocked Indian print cottons and some fat quarters in shades of grey and taupe, which for some reason are very hard to find here - I suppose grey is not a very pretty colour but I wanted some for blending. 

Hand printing cotton fabric

My only fabric indulgences at the Quilt Expo - ain't I restrained!

All is not lost though, in my search for products.  Sue Bennet, owner of  Miss Sampson's Drapery, and a good friend of Harriet's stocks many of the products recommended in the book.  I introduced myself to Sue at her stall and she is happy to mail order the things I want.  I did a little happy dance at this news.  Sue sponsored (is that the correct term?) Jinny Beyer's visit to the show and I was privileged  to attend both of Jinny's lectures - Magic with Border Prints and Colour Your World.  The lectures were both informative and entertaining and I'm excited about using her techniques when choosing colours for my quilts.

My hands-on quilting lessons with Stephanie Newman continued on Monday, and this time we worked on free motion (last week was grids and ditch-stitching).  The exercises were not dis-similar to the ones in Harriet's Heritage Machine Quilting book - practicing curves, geometric shapes and squiggles. 

The last exercise of the evening was free form quilting, where we make a pretty little pattern of flowers trailing over the fabric.  Stephanie explained that free form was easier than stitching to a drawn design, but I disagreed as I felt having lines to follow was easier.  Thinking it over later, I understand that it's not actually easier, but that I am more comfortable working to a set design than I am with free form.  In fact, free-form quilting terrifies me!

I don't pretend to be able to draw (hence my obsession with stencils), I have trouble with perspective in particular.  I am far more at ease when I have a set plan to quilt to, a set size and a set order in which to direct the fabric.  This is just the way my brain works - free form quilting confuses me no end!

With my sample sandwich under the needle I started off ok, but suddenly, for no particular reason I'd veer off into straight lines instead of curves, or would simply stop with no idea on what to do next.  It's a very odd sensation - my mind would be set on making loops and curvy lines, but my hands would push the fabric into straight lines.  It's really hard to explain, but I found the whole exercise very perplexing.

You can see the many places where I would just stop in confusion, also veering off into straight lines, random loops, backtracking and changing sizes.

A couple of times Stephanie had to remind me to breathe - apparently I was turning an alarming blue colour.  I still want to pursue this method, although my personal preference is for more formal designs (with lines!) I'd like to be able to free-form as well.  It's going to take patience and practice, which is the case with anything new, but I also want to understand and conquer whatever it is which makes this so difficult for me.

It's almost done - I have half the binding sewn down and should finish the rest tonight.  After getting home from the quilt show I was itching to sew!  After a token flinging of things into boxes (I'm supposed to be concentrating on packing for the move to a new house) I gave up and headed to the sewing room.  I finished quilting the borders, and I'm really pleased with them.  I like the design on this quilt and it's one I can easily manage to free motion.  The botched centre design really bothered me, and with a depth of persistence and patience I didn't know I had, managed to totally un-pick it.  The cold weather is starting to set in now, and I'm looking forward to snuggling up in this quilt with its lovely wool batting.

Unfinished and unwashed but almost ready to snuggle up in!