Thursday, July 19, 2012

Belated March FMQ Challenge: Thread Dancing with Ann Fahl

My Belated March 2012 FMQ Challenge Efforts
Having only joined SewCalGal's 2012 Free-Motion Quilting Challenge this month, I was disappointed to see that Ann Fahl's tutorial for the month of March had been removed at the end of the month as per Ann's wishes.  I followed the linkys to see what other challenge participants had done that month, and then I was even more disappointed to have missed out on it.  I ordered a copy of Ann's book, Dancing With Thread, (available here from Amazon, or you can order it from Ann's own web site here) and, using Ann's book as well as the posts and photos from those who completed the challenge during the month of March, I think I was able to figure out the gist of the March exercises. 

Photo from
Now, why did I need another quilting book when I already have so many?  (That's my husband you hear, groaning across the Internet).  My other machine quilting books, by Harriet Hargrave and Diane Gaudynski, discuss how to achieve very traditional effects with modern machine quilting, but Ann pushes the boundaries with quilting that is fresh and modern, a celebration of modern tools and techniques rather than a faster or easier way to simulate the heirloom quilting seen in antique quilts.  I've read all about why I shouldn't use Coats Clark thread or bargain/ancient thread or polyester-wrapped regular sewing thread for quilting.  I've experimented with the 40-weight variegated quilting threads from YLI, and lately I've been using a combination of invisible monofilament nylon thread with Mettler 2-ply 60-weight cotton embroidery thread on my Drunken Dragons quilt, and I like how that looks.  I know that some quilters use silk threads for dense heirloom quilting, although I haven't tried that yet myself. 

Well, Ann Fahl quilts with rayon and trilobal polyester embroidery thread!  To me, that sounds like a diet expert telling me to eat chocolate for breakfast.  The caveat is that Ann makes primarily wall quilts rather than bed quilts -- she knows her quilts will receive very little wear and will seldom be washed, and realizes that these threads are not ideal for every project.  She also uses invisible nylon monofilament thread in every one of her quilts, but only for quilting in the ditch and quilting around appliques or embroidered motifs.  That's kind of how I feel about the monofilament thread now -- I loved it in the ditch, but was disappointed with its invisibility otherwise.  Ann says that she even uses the invisible nylon thread in the BOBBIN, which I had originally wanted to do on my Drunken Dragons quilt but did not attempt because I couldn't find information about anyone else using monofilmant in the bobbin successfully, and I worried about how I was even going to get that stretchy thread wound on a bobbin properly. 

Meanwhile, I have a whole tub of rayon embroidery thread that I never use anymore since switching to Isacord for embroidery, so I decided to play with rayon threads for this exercise, as Ann recommends in her book.  I didn't have the titanium topstitch needle that Ann likes to use for quilting, so I used a Schmetz embroidery needle instead.  I started out with my 60 weight cotton embroidery thread in the bobbin, but then I found a bobbin wound with pink embroidery thread (rayon?  Isacord?  No idea!) and popped that one in the bobbin case.  My batting is Hobbs Tuscany Silk, because that's what I have scraps of at the moment. 

I divided my fat-quarter-sized sample sandwich into four quadrants with purple disappearing marker, and tried my hand at each of the four quilting motifs that I saw in the March challenge linkys.  I did the Loop and Twist design first, because it's similar to the way I quilted most of my Very Hungry Caterpillar quilt.  Since the quilting on that quilt came out much denser than I'd intended, seriously shrinking up the quilt top, I deliberately tried to keep my loops and twists larger and more open this time, with more puff between the lines of quilting.  I liked it, and I think the larger Loops and Twists might even look good in the heavier variegated YLI threads, on the right quilt. 

"Loops and Twists"
Next, I attempted the variations with stars and hearts instead of loops.  That was harder than it looked!  The stars were kind of fun, but my hearts all look like sickly philodendron leaves.  It's okay; I'm not a big fan of hearts, anyway! 

Stars and Hearts

On to the spirals!  I have to admit, I didn't care for the Spirals when I first saw the drawing, but when I started quilting them with the rayon thread, they were so much FUN!  I've been practicing other kinds of spirals a lot lately -- the kind where you spiral from the outside in, and then spiral back out again, and I discovered that Ann's version of cutting straight out from the center is a lot easier and less stressful for me.  It also looks better in thread than it does in a black and white drawing.  I'm so glad I tried it, and I'll definitely be using that soon. 


Last but not least, Spirals + Petals = Little Flowers.  Again, I don't see myself quilting flowers onto a project any time soon, but you never know.  The most interesting thing about this exercise was learning to travel out far enough from the previous flower to have just enough room for the next flower, without too much of a gap between them. 

Spiral Flowers

Another fabulous idea Ann shares in her book is creating a Quilting Ideas notebook or scrapbook, which I had coincidentally just started to do on my own prior to reading her tutorial.  I had been collecting quilting ideas on my Pinterest board for awhile, and then one day I printed them all out and stuck them in a three-ring binder next to my sewing room so I could remember them and have a visual reminder when I attempted to recreate those patterns on my own.  Now, in addition to those Pinterest photos, I also have the monthly FMQ Challenge Tutorials filed in my binder, both photos and hilighted text, as well as the handouts I received at the quilting class I took at my local quilt shop and some ideas torn from magazines. 

You know what the hardest part of this whole FMQ challenge is for me?  It's choosing the fabric for the practice sandwich.  I stand there, sadly contemplating all the lovely fabrics in my stash, and I feel like I'm selecting a victim for ritual sacrifice.  I am trying to use solid fabrics for these practice exercises so I can see what I'm doing and concentrate on the quilting without being distracted by a print, but I don't have very many solids in my stash at all and I hate to use them up like this.  I know others are making crafty little tote bags and table runners and such from their samples, but I just want to practice for the sake of practice and then get back to my big quilt for Lars.  So what I really need to do is go out and buy a selection of solid practice fabrics and make up a big pile of fat quarter "sandwiches" with batting, backing, and solid fabric on top, all ready to go.  Maybe I'll get a half yard of each fabric so that one FQ can be a FMQ Practice Victim, and the other FQ can go into my stash.  Yes, I said it -- I need to BUY MORE FABRIC.  Now we'll find out if my husband really reads my blog, or if he just skims through and looks at the pictures...  ;-)

Back to work on Lars's quilt!


Lane said...

Loved your post. Great quilting is all about practice. Enjoy the practice as much as the real thing. Also, to save on my lovely fabrics, I pick up old sheets or yardage of poly/cotton fabrics at goodwill and use them for practice sandwiches and garment muslins. Much cheaper than using my "good" fabrics for practice work. Lane

Ivory Spring said...

You did a great job, Rebecca!

SewCalGal said...

Really looks great. Your FMQ is excellent.