Monday, January 31, 2011

Pitfalls and Pearls of Machine Quilting Part 2

Last post covered tips for setting up the sewing area, layering the quilt and batting choices, and the dreaded tension issues. I have a few more tips for the actual decisions of what to quilt and how to proceed with as little marking as possible.

*Do your walking foot work first. This is all of the quilt in the ditch around borders and individual blocks if desired. It sections off the quilt and makes less shifting of the layers. When I quilt with the walking foot I set two stitches on my machine, the basic straight stitch with the desired stitch length and needle down position, and then I set my zigzag stitch (stitch 2 on the picture below) to 0 stitch width (which makes it a straight stitch) and the shortest stitch length my machine will allow.

This second stitch I have set to use as my beginning and ending locking stitches and allows me to quickly go between locking stitches and my regular straight stitch with just the push of a button and not having to change the stitch length on my straight stitch every time I begin and end an area of quilting. This locks the quilting stitches well and lets me travel short distances to other areas on the quilt without cutting the thread, just lifting the presser foot to release the tension, I generally do not travel further than 6 to 10 inches with out cutting the thread. If I do travel, I trim off the top thread as soon as I have a couple inches of the new area quilted, I do this especially if I am using invisible thread because it it easy to forget and miss if I do all the trimming at the end of the quilting.

*After the walking foot work do all of the quilting in the ditch next with the free motion foot and the feed dogs down. This is all the quilting around and in appliques, small block or sashing quilting. The last quilting I do on a quilt is the background fillers. I will give some tips of some of my favorite non-marking techniques in a bit. When quilting in the ditch feel the direction the seam allowance is ironed, you want to be quilting on the side the seam allowance is ironed away from-the side with less layers of fabric.

*As I am piecing the quilt I start thinking about how I will quilt it, I have sticky notes and a note book by my sewing machine that I jot down ideas. The piecing or fabric usually give me ideas of how to quilt the quilt. I draw fake blocks on my practice piece and see how they look. Sometimes the piecing or the fabric lends itself to the quilting, for example I love striped fabric in borders or background, very easy to quilt on the lines in the fabric and I generally either choose a striped fabric for an inner border or I quilt stripes in and inner border.

*A favorite small inner border quilting motif is one I do with my walking foot. This works really well for borders less than 1 ½ inches wide, it gives a good motion feel. My machine has a wavy line stitch,(in the above picture of my machine it is stitch 4) I set it for the widest stitch width possible on my machine and generally a middle of the scale stitch length, but the longest stitch length looks good also. This wavy design reminds me of water and is a good background for quilts with water designs.

***a little note about turning corners in a border with a quilt design, this is an area I have to mark the quilt. There is nothing wrong with doing an end to end design. On a very thin border like the wavy design mentioned above I do not even try to turn the corner, I simply do the sides and then the top and bottom ending at the seam allowances. This is a lot less noticeable then a whacked out uneven design turn on the corners. Another trick is to quilt a line making corner squares in the borders and quilting a little motif in the corners.

*Stippling is my favorite background filler, I know it has been around for years but I think it is fun. So because it is a much used quilting motif I try to add a little something to it to make it special. I frequently quilt names or sayings in the the stipple. I sometimes vary the size of the stipple, a smaller or larger scale for different areas of the quilt - but be careful to keep the same amount of quilting throughout the quilt. I also like to cut shapes out of freezer paper and iron them onto the quilt (hearts, bugs, flowers, some of the applique shapes in the quilt or shapes from the fabric - see the turtles)

quilt around the shape and then stipple around it- or in the example above I was quilting pebbles as the background filler. This breaks up large areas of background filler and it adds a little something special to the quilt. If there are large areas of background I will go to a stencil, a classic feathered wreath or other design.
I still try not to mark the quilt, I will trace the design on lightweight tracing paper and quilt thru it, this works better with a dark fabric. Beware of the pencil lead on the tracing paper going thru to the quilt on a white background.

*** Freezer paper is one of my favorite tools. Like the tips mentioned above, I also use freezer paper shapes for small corner stones or blocks, for example hearts. My daughter is a scrapbooker and owns a cricut cutter. I go thru some of her cutting patterns and cut freezer paper shapes and motif to iron on my quilts and then quilt around.

You can use these shapes several times and even if I accidentally quilt onto the freezer paper a little bit, it generally perforates fairly easy for removal. I will also fan fold a long piece of freezer paper the size of my borders and cut a design to quilt around for a long border - like paper dolls holding hands.

*** Masking tape (or better yet blue painters tape - less sticky residue) is great for straight or diagonal line background quilting. Several different widths are available from ¼ to 2 inch wide, just quilt along the edge of the tape.

***Hera markers. This great little tool is available from Clover. It creases the fabric and I use it in the same way I use masking tape, for straight or diagonal line quilting in backgrounds.

***Borders Made Easy. This is a product I will sometime use to give a quilt just that special something, especially a border that is really going to show the quilting, like the white inner border on YoYoville. I like this product because it does have corners drawn into it, it is an easy product to use and is not too hard to remove the paper once you have quilted thru it.

***Quilt from the back.

I have made two quilts by quilting an outline in the backing fabric. You must select a fabric with a nice overall design and then purchase extra fabric to piece it together to continue the design over the whole back of the quilt - like matching wallpaper. I quilted the outline of this vine in my quilt backing fabric with an invisible thread.

The fun thing with this type of quilting was that I used a heavier variegated thread in the bobbin which then was on the front of the quilt. The Moon Over the Mountain quilt was done in batiks and the blocks are actually machine appliquéd not pieced.

This log cabin quilt used the same technique, I choose a viney fabric for the back, put a variegated thread in the bottom and quilted it with invisible thread with the backing fabric up - outlining the vine.
These were a couple of long posts, but if you pick up a tip or two I am happy. Like all the great quilting teachers I will echo their best advise, practice, practice, practice.

Relax, have fun, and happy stitching.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pitfalls and Pearls of Machine Quilting Part 1

I have been asked to write down some of the ways I approach machine quilting, how I get the ideas for the ways I quilt a quilt. I have a long arm machine, a Handiquilter Avante, that I do machine quilting on as a small business, but this post is about machine quilting on my smaller machine, the one I do all of my piecing and applique on. When I started thinking about doing this post and jotting down some ideas I wanted to share, I realized it will probably be at least two posts. The first on general machine set up and the second on how I decide what to quilt on the quilt.

I am not really a teacher but I am a reader, I have a couple of great machine quilting books that I consider excellent authorities on machine quilting. I have taken classes from both Harriet Hargrave (her book Heirloom Machine Quilting is a must have in your quilting library) and Sue Nichols (her book is Machine Quilting, A Primer of Techniques) Both of these books are excellent beginner instructions. When you are ready to step it up to more advanced quilting there is Diane Gaudynski’s Quilt Savvy. I have not had the opportunity to take a class from Diane Gaudynki but I would love to one day. She is the quilter I most strive to be like, she has an excellent website and blog with lots of tips, there is a link to her blog on my sidebar. These instructors and their books are the basis of how I machine quilt.

I do NOT mark a quilt if at all possible. I have had some terrible experiences (see previous post from Bad Luck Quilt to Blue Ribbon, June 18, 2010) with getting markings off quilts with products that others seem to use with no problems. So what I do to avoid marking a quilt is really the beginning of how I choose to quilt a quilt and it is the start of my tips.

The whole time I am piecing a quilt, and even when I choose a quilt to make, I am already thinking ahead to “how am I going to quilt it“. When I first saw the pattern for YoYoville (a pattern from Anne Sutton, Bunny Hill Designs and the example in many of these photos) I knew immediately how I would quilt the borders and that I could do a good job quilting. It was a large part of why choose to make the quilt.

Before I get to far ahead there are some basic machine set up tips.

*New Quilt, New Needle. I am a needle changer, I like a new needle for every quilt I do. After all the money I have spent on the fabric, batting, and thread the least I can do is give the quilt a new needle - probably the least expensive item used for the construction of the quilt. The needle is also a key part in the machine tension. So start off right, clean and oil the sewing machine and get a new needle.

*Set up your quilting space so there is support for the quilt to your left and behind the machine. I turn my whole sewing room around when I am machine quilting so that I have tables to hold the weight of the quilt. I have used my ironing board in the past but have recently purchased a small folding table that I also take on retreats.

*A quick tip about the layering of the quilt and the batting. If you are machine quilting on your home machine you have limited room, use a thinner batt. I use four different battings depending on what the quilt will be used for, all four are thinner batts and cling to the quilt top and back so there is less shifting (a polyester batt will slip and slide and give you loads of trouble and folds of fabric in your quilting). I use Hobbs 80/20, Hobb wool, or Quilters Dream Select for a quilt that will be used for a bed or cuddling in, they are soft and drapey. I like Warm and Natural for wall quilts or table cloths they are a little stiffer. The amount of quilting will also determine how stiff or drapey the quilt is. I pin baste with safety pins. On some smaller quilts I will iron the quilt sandwich and the batting will cling enough to the top and back that pinning is not necessary.

*When I am layering the quilt I make a small quilt sandwich out of the same batting, backing, and quilt top fabric as the quilt. This is my practice piece to set thread tension, try quilting designs on, and to warm up on when I start quilting. I also have sticky notes is this picture - I am always jotting down quilting ideas as I go.

*Thread Tension - EEK - it has been mentioned twice, we have to talk about it. Tension is one of the most difficult, scary, FRUSTRATING, things in machine quilting and sewing in general (how appropriate that it is called ‘tension‘). That being said, my best advice is “don’t be afraid of it“. There is a tension dial on your machine for a reason, tension changes. I learned more about machine tension when I got my long arm machine than in 25 plus years of sewing on my smaller home machine. My wonderful long arm dealer, Country Traditions in Fremont, NE told new machine owners to remember TNT when dealing with machine tension (you know like dynamite-what I personally want to do with my machine when the tension is acting up). Thread, Needle, Tension. This is the order you should approach when thinking about machine tension. So a few “pearls” for tension:

***Thread - different thread weight, different tension. The thicker the thread (the weight number will go down -50 weight, 40 weight, 12 weight) the looser (or decrease) in tension, There are a couple of other things that can affect thread thickness. Darker color threads have more dye in them so they are thicker, you may be using the same brand of thread but need to adjust the tension because one is a darker color. Humidity swells thread, you can be quilting along happily with your favorite thread and then one warm summer day the tension just will not work, consider the humidity, you may just need to decrease the tension a little bit. Sometimes thread can also just be flawed, a bad batch, your machine tension may be just fine, try a different spool. Make sure you have threaded your machine correctly and wound the bobbin correctly - two of the first things I check when my tension is whacked out.

***Needles - I have already mentioned new quilt, new needle, but also remember thicker thread, bigger needle. Unlike thread weight where the number goes DOWN with bigger or thicker thread, with the needles the number goes UP with bigger needles, 10, 12, 14 (70, 80 etc). So if you have thread breakage try a bigger needle. Make sure the needle is placed correctly in the machine and again, that the machine is correctly threaded. Just like you can have a bad spool of thread, you can have a bad batch of needles, if all else fails try a needle from a different package.

***Tension - okay we are to tension, we have the differences in thread and needle accounted for. We now have to mess with the machine tension. Just to make things a little more challenging there are two places to adjust, top thread and bobbin thread tension. Top thread tension is adjusted on my Bernina (and I believe most home machines) by changing the tension dial, the smaller the number on the tension dial the tighter the top thread tension. The bobbin tension should be set so that when you dangle the bobbin case by the thread it should slide down when you give it a slight jerk.

If it slides down as soon as you pick it up, it is too loose, tighten the bobbin screw. If it does not move with the little jerk it is to tight, loosen the bobbin screw.
Righty Tighty, Lefty, Loosey. Make very small adjustments if you are changing the bobbin screw - think 5 minutes on a clock.

I like to check my machine tension on every new project whether it be piecing or quilting or any time I use a new type of thread. I do a little stitch sample with the widest zigzag and a very close stitch length - a satin stitch (using different thread colors on the top and in the bobbin). This is the front side of the sample only the top thread (the white) shows on the front.

If I am using invisible thread for machine quilting I do this test with the bobbin type of thread on the top also - we will make adjustments for invisible thread in a bit). If my machine tension is correctly adjusted a small amount of the top thread (the white) will show on the back of the sample, there should be no bobbin thread (the black) on the front of the fabric. This picture is the back of the sample, by my finger you see a small amount of white thread on the edge. This is great tension.

Here is another little tip I have written down on a piece of paper on the bulletin board in my sewing room to help me remember and keep straight. " If the top thread appears to be lying straight (not interlocking) on top of the fabric tighten the BOBBIN tension, if the bottom thread appears to be lying straight tighten the TOP tension." Make tension adjustments one at a time, top or bottom tension, so you can tell if the changes have helped.

*Invisible thread - Love It - This is why I still use my home machine instead of the long arm for some of my machine quilting. Some quilts benefit from the beautiful variegated threads or different thread color for the quilting, and some quilts I just want invisible thread - it is a design decision. I adjust the tension for the invisible thread much better on my home machine than on the long arm - the speed of the long arm and the larger needle size make back thread little pokies show thru on the front of the quilt. With invisible thread I set the machine tension by using the bobbin thread and then I just tighten (on the Berninas to a smaller number) the top thread tension a notch or two with the invisible thread (or I place the bobbin thread thru the extra little thread finger on the bobbin case). I test it on my quilt sandwich sample and adjust as needed.

*Machine quilting with different thread color on top and in the bobbin - I do not do it. Again this is one of the decisions I make at the beginning of the quilt process when choosing the fabric and thinking how am I going to quilt this quilt. I don’t care how wonderful your machine tension is, if you have two different color threads you will get little pokies of the back thread on the front of the quilt or front thread on the back. So choose your backing fabric with this in mind. I really do not feel like I have to match the back thread color to the back fabric, it is all about the front of the quilt. So keep in mind when choosing your backing fabric what thread color will be used in machine quilting and just another little tip - choose a busy fabric - it hides a host of error in machine quilting.

So that is it for machine set up , it would be nice if our machine dealers could just set the tension and it would stay and we would never have to touch it, but there are wonderful threads and techniques out there for us to play with and adjusting tension is part of the game. I will continue in my next post with some of the ways I quilt certain areas of a quilt and how I try to keep marking to a minimum.

Happy Stitching,

Friday, January 21, 2011


The above quilt is one of my favorite quilts. It is only about 38 inches square with wool appliques and Jo Morton fabrics. I believe the pattern was in an American Patchwork and Quilting annual favorite quilt shops magazine. It generally is on my dining room table, but I have others for the table for the fall, Thanksgiving, Christmas, so it is always nice to get this one back out after the holidays and back on the table.

Today is starting out rather cold, 7 degrees with more snow on the way.

Dinner is in the crock pot.
It is a no make up,
stay at home,
cuddle in your favorite quilt and read a book
kind of day.
Happy Stitching,

Friday, January 14, 2011

DD's trick

The quilting on YoYoville (Pattern by Anne Sutton from Bunny Hill Designs) continues.

I have been spending much more of my quilting time on hand applique and have finished my 18th block for that quilt.I really like to hand applique but now that I have done this many blocks, I must say I have not really improved on leaves. I can turn under the point but the tips look sort of pulled in. What ever...
My dear daughter has a couple of my quilts in her home, strictly on beds or on the couch to cuddle under. She does not like them as wall hangings or table clothes and really has no interest in quilting, so last weekend when she asked me if she could look thru some of my fabric stash I was mildly surprised. She took a few scraps of fabric with her that day and as she was leaving she said she would like a sewing machine. Wow, I immediately started looking on Ebay for a smaller Bernina thinking maybe she is going to start being interested in quilting. On Tuesday she came over and asked if I would help her sew something. This is what she needs the sewing machine for:

Scrapbook pages. Beth is a wonderful scrapbooker and she is working on an album with some of her wedding pictures. (She also crochets and does the cutest hats, check out Hooked with Love on facebook) So for now I will add the fancy stitching on needed scrapbook pages, no need for sewing machine shopping :(
My thoughts and prayers are sent out to all of my quilting friends in Australia, the devastating flooding and loss of life is beyond comprehension. Lizzie has a beautiful post about her beloved country.
Happy Stitching all,

Friday, January 7, 2011

Rearranging Blocks

I have finally started quilting YoYoville (a pieced and appliqued quilt from Anne Sutton of Bunny Hill Designs). Because of all the cute little yoyos appliqued on the top I did not want to put this quilt in the long arm and crush the yoyos in the roller bars so I am quilting it on the Bernina.

While I am quilting I keep looking at my finished blocks from the Civil War Bride Quilt I have pinned to my cork tile wall. I am getting close to finishing the blocks and the rearranging of blocks has begun. This is the pattern arrangement:

I kind of like the idea of having the bride with the empty leaf blocks on each side of her, so I also tried pulling the crazy falling bird block down a row and then getting all the fruit blocks on one row:

I also kind of like the four "star" bird blocks kind of in the center and pulling that 3rd vase block down to the bottom row and keeping things nice and symmetrical (type A personality showing):

I just finished that third vase block, I got a little heavy handed with the glue basting and it needed a bath and is currently drying before I trim it and photograph it properly.

Anyway, this is the fun I am having this week in my sewing room. With the new year there are some wonderful new sew along projects, exchanges, and free blocks out there in blog land. Here are some of my favorites:

Lori is sharing a Midnight Star doll quilt. She is such a good teacher.

Sheryl Johnson from Temecula Quilt Co. did a wonderful applique for the 12 days of Christmas called Christmas tide. It is inspired by an antique version of a collage applique quilt.

Christine at http.// is hosting a couple of doll quilt swaps.

Anne Sutton from Bunny Hill Designs gives a free pattern on the 5th of each month and this years quilt is a cute pieced and applique quilt called Henrietta Whiskers featuring a cute little squirrel.

Barbara Brackman has started a new blog commemorating the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the civil war. She will be posting an 8 inch block each Saturday this year. She is a great historian and a great read even if you are not interested in doing the blocks.

Lots of fun opportunities out there in blog land.
Happy Stitching all...