Friday, March 16, 2012

The Beast Has Been Basted! Onwards to the Quilting!

A Sea of Safety Pins
There are about 730 size #1 safety pins more or less evenly spaced throughout my 70" x 105" Drunken Dragons quilt now.  I tried to be careful to keep the layers perfectly smooth, straight, and flat while I was pinning, ever fearful of ending up with those pleats and puckers on the backing side after machine quilting.  I even flipped Anders' Froggy Quilt of Many Colors over to try to get pictures of the pleats and puckers and knots that I'm trying to avoid this time, and you know what?  I couldn't even FIND them!  I know they're there, but evidently the "oopses" weren't as bad as they seemed at the time.  That's encouraging, right? 
Kwik Klip tool and Size #1 Curved Safety Pins
A quick word about pin basting: as far as I'm concerned, the Kwik Klip tool is absolutely mandatory for this task.  It costs about $7, and it's a wood handled tool that looks sort of like a blunt awl with grooves around the metal end.  It's used to lift the pointed end of the safety pin away from the fabric and close the pin without scratching and poking your fingers.  Even if you managed not to stab yourself closing pins without the tool, you would still have extremely sore fingertips after so many hundreds of pins.  This tool is worth its weight in gold, and you can get one here if you can't find one at your local quilt shop.  I use curved, nickel-plated, rust-proof size #1 safety pins to baste my quilts, and I try to evenly space them about 3" apart throughout the quilt.  I was careful not to put pins too close to the seam lines between blocks, because I'll be quilting "in the ditch" right along those seams lines with my walking foot to stabilize the quilt before I do any other quilting.

I'm also planning to attempt quilting in the ditch along the curved circle seam on each block, but that's going to have to be done free motion, with the feed dogs down, so I don't have to wrestle with turning the quilt 360 degrees for every circle. 
Variegated Machine Quilting Threads I will NOT be Using, YLI & King Tut
Which brings me to the Thread Question.  This is going to be my first quilt using nylon monofilament "invisible" thread in the needle.  I briefly considered some of these lovely variegated machine quilting threads that I had in my stash, but then I noticed that they were all 40 weight threads and I remembered all the reasons I had opted to go with invisible thread this time:  Heavy decorative threads might look great with my fabrics, but they will draw attention to every quilting hiccup or oops, and I'm very much a beginner at free motion quilting, so there are bound to be plenty of them.  Also, as I discovered on past projects, the fancy quilting designs that are digitized to stitch automatically with my machine's embroidery module tend to look bulky where the design backtracks to get from one place to another, and you can get little bumpy knots on the back of the quilt at points or places where the design stitches over itself too much.  I usually prefer natural fibers, and had an initial aversion to invisible "plastic" thread -- but Harriet Hargrove and Diane Gaudynski, arguably the most accomplished machine quilting experts around, both have used the invisible nylon monofilament thread in their award-winning quilts, and they recommend it for beginners.  If it's good enough for Harriet and Diane, it's good enough for me!

In my research on this thread, I found that most quilters use invisible nylon thread in the needle only, and recommend a 60 weight cotton embroidery thread in the bobbin.  I have heard wonderful things about Aurifil Mako 50 weight cotton thread for both piecing and quilting, which is supposed to be combine the benefits of 50 and 60 weight threads, but none of the shops local to me carry Aurifil and I wasn't about to order it online since I want a color that will virtually disappear on the Scrabble label fabric (I appliqued the label to the quilt backing prior to layering and basting so it will be quilted in and never come off, but I don't want to see contrasting quilting thread running all over the scrabble tiles).

Boring Threads I WILL Be Using: SewArt, YLI, Bottom Line & Mettler
I went to my local Bernina dealership, and I bought both a 60 weight Mettler cotton embroidery thread and a 60 weight polyester thread, The Bottom Line, that Superior Threads developed for machine quilter Libby Lehman.  I really just wanted the 60 weight cotton, because that's exactly what Diane Gaudynski's book says to use in the bobbin with invisible thread in the needle, but the two salesladies at the dealership are also quilters and they were pushy and insistent about the polyester thread.  They were trying to be helpful, but they made me feel like I was disrespecting my quilting elders if I didn't opt to do it their way, and the same ladies gave me attitude when I came in to buy more #1 safety pins after I ran out of them earlier this week.  You know, the raised eyebrows and the barely audible sniff of disapproval as they checked me out.  Apparently THEY use the larger #2 pins and they work just fine for them.  Maybe they use a thicker, loftier polyester batting instead of the thin batts I use, who knows?  The thing is, there is no one "right" way to do any of this.  Some quilters prewash fabric, some use it straight off the bolt.  Some starch, some don't.  There are raging debates about every marking product out there, and each quilter needs to try different things to find out what works best for him or her (yes -- there ARE he-quilters out there, too!).  The way I navigate the minefield of conflicting options is to seek out those quilters whose work I most admire, and find out what products and techniques they are using.  I didn't mind buying both threads this time, because it's possible that my sewing machine will prefer one over another, and what doesn't get used on this quilt can go into my stash for a future project.  But I have had similar experiences in several other shops, where the mostly older salesladies who have been sewing for decades were not able to set aside their own values and preferences in favor of the customer's needs and the profitibility of their employer.  When I was shopping for fabric for my very first quilt, the quilt shop ladies tried to talk me out of buying the more expensive (and exciting!) batiks that I was drawn to -- they felt that I should be shopping in the clearance fabric section until I was more experienced, and told me so!  My point in mentioning all of this is that there is a huge opportunity for quilt shops and machine dealerships to improve their profitibility with some basic sales training for their staff.  If I had the option of another shop nearby, I wouldn't go back to this one at all.  Okay -- off my soap box!

Another note about sewing with the invisible thread: On the advice of my experts, I did lower my needle tension when I used this thread for my invisible machine applique.  I put a lightweight cotton embroidery thread in the bobbin, matched to my background fabric, lowered the top tension by one, and used the built-in invisible applique stitch on my machine, with some minor length and width adjustments.  I also put the invisible thread on the thread stand attachment that I bought for embroidery threads, instead of using the horizontal spool holder on the machine.  Using a free-standing cone thread stand would be another option, but this thread benefits from a little extra breathing room as it comes off the spool and travels to the tension disks to prevent it from kinking up and misbehaving.

My espresso machine is fixed and running smoothly again, thanks to my "handy" husband, so all is well again in my caffeinated world.  Today I've got some errands to run and phone calls to make, and Anders has his first Suzuki violin lesson this afternoon.  I'm hoping to sneak in 30 minutes of sewing time either today or sometime tomorrow.  I'll post more pictures once the quilting adventure has begun.  Have a wonderful weekend!


Artfulife said...

This quilt is going to be amazing1 I have to say I've had my fair share of snubs at the local quilting shop. the blank stares when I mention different things I want to try. I've even been told, "You can't do that!" when I know I can. I've seen other bloggers do it. If they can, why can't I? I agree there is no one set way of doing things.

Karena said...

I am stunned at the beauty of your new quilt. So unique!! Your shop ladies do have an attitude issue!

Also so glad that your Espresso is fixed; must have coffee while sewing.

Please come and join my new Fashion Giveaway from Fresh Produce!

Art by Karena