Saturday, March 21, 2015

Amish Baby is ALMOST Finished: Continuous Curves, Olive Loop Border and Free-Motion Stars

Amish Baby 54-40 Or Fight: In Progress, Nearly Complete
This baby is due to be born within weeks, and it looks like the Amish Baby 54-40 Or Fight quilt will be finished right on time.  I wanted to do a quick post about how I did the continuous curve quilting on the square patches, the olive loop border, and the free-motion stars in the lime green blocks, mostly so I can refer back to the post someday when I want to dust these techniques off and use them again.

In my last post, I was struggling with how to get those free motion continuous double curves to look relatively even on the red and white square patches.  I ended up making myself a little template out of gridded template plastic, 2" square to match my patches, with little tiny holes punched out a quarter inch in at the center of each side. 

My Template for Marking Continuous Curves
That made it really easy for me to mark my quilt with dots (the Bohin mechanical chalk pencils are the perfect diameter for marking through these holes with just a twist).  I found that when I had those dots on the quilt it was a lot easier to quilt the continuous curves because I had something to aim for to keep the arced stitching lines about the same depth and with the arc center in the correct spot. 

Free Motion Olive Loop Border
Next, I quilted olive loops in the outermost border.  I first saw this motif in Judi Madsen's long arm quilting and I have been doodling it on my bulletin during the sermon at church...  shh!  Because I'm planning to use 2" wide satin binding for this quilt, I marked a chalk line indicating where the edge of the satin binding would be to ensure that none of my olives would end up under the binding.  And I just stitched this one freehand, trying to deliberately include some olives that were larger or smaller than others (because I knew they were not all going to come out identical).  I think this came out really good for my first try.  Definitely going to use this one again!

I could have just done the continuous double curve quilting in all of the square patches, but I wanted to bring in a little smidge of whimsy.  So I found this little squiggle star motif -- it's actually part of an embroidered outline quilting design from a collection I bought ages ago.  I resized the squiggly star on my photocopy machine until it was exactly the size I wanted it, 1 1/2" to nestle nicely inside the seam allowances of my 2" squares.  Then I used a marking method that I learned from Don Linn's April 2012 tutorial for the SewCalGal FMQ Challenge.  In Don's tutorial exercise, we used wooden embroidery hoops, bridal tulle and an extra fine point Sharpie marker to create a mark-through template for transferring quilting designs (you use either the purple disappearing marker or the blue water soluble marker to draw the design on your quilt, NOT the Sharpie!).  Since my motif was pretty tiny, I asked my husband for a small plastic ring from his Garage of Handy Manly Stuff.  I just wrapped a piece of tulle around the plastic ring and held it in place with a ponytail elastic.

Basically, you trace your quilting design onto the tulle with the Sharpie.  Then you can place the hooped tulle over your quilt and use the temporary marking pen to trace right over the design on the tulle.  I could have used my embroidery design software to resize the embroidered quilting motif and stitched the stars out with my embroidery module, but it would have been overkill for something so simple and it would have taken a LOT more time to hoop and rehoop over and over again for every single star.  It's actually a lot easier to FMQ a SMALL quilting motif than a large one, and these stars were quick and easy to quilt last night.  Anders was hanging out in my sewing room watching Tom & Jerry while I quilted the stars.  :-)

Free Motion Stars!
Finally, since I was all threaded up with the lime green thread, I snapped on my walking foot and quilted some straight(ish) lines in the green border.  I placed them approximately 1/4" from the seams, which framed the embroidered text nicely without crossing over the stitching, and I think that the straight line quilting is a nice contrast with the curvy olive loop border and the curvy stippling in the black background fabric.

I think I want to leave the green star triangles unquilted and puffy, but something needs to go in the royal blue square patches.  I am leaning towards more squiggly stars.  Lastly, I might do some really random quilting in the outside of the green border, where it will be covered by satin binding, just to shrink it up and flatten it out a bit.  If I leave it totally unquilted and just attach the border, I'm afraid the border will look wavy.  Once all of the quilting is complete, I'll trim off my excess batting and backing and serge the quilt edges (I always do that with satin binding quilts, to protect the quilt edges in case the satin binding wears away over time and needs replacing).

Meanwhile, I am taking a break from quilting today so I can hem my new choir robe and personalize the fit a little bit.  (The sleeves are too long and the hem is crooked).  Happy weekend and happy stitching!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Continuous Curve Quilting on the Amish Baby Quilt

Amish Baby 54-40 or Fight with Continuous Curve Quilting
I finished the stipplish quilting throughout the black background areas of my Amish Baby 54-40 or Fight quilt (I say "stipplish" instead of "stippling" because I intentionally mixed in some pointy little horns and flames along with the smooth jigsaw puzzle curves.  The Quilt Police say you're not allowed to put any points or corners in stippling).  I tried to keep my stipplish quilting as open as possible because I don't want this baby quilt to end up too stiff.  With the stippling and ditch quilting completed, I could have declared the quilting finished from a stability standpoint, but I wanted to add some quilting that I could see, and I wanted to try a new-to-me quilting technique.  So I decided to quilt double continuous curves inside the square patches of the quilt.

Theoretically, this should be easy, but the first attempt looked so bad to me that I debated ripping out the quilting. 

First Attempt at Continuous Curves, Without Marking
After leaving the quilt overnight and coming back to what I'd done the next day, I could still see that it didn't look like "professional quilting," but I decided it looked good enough for a beginning effort.  The thing about free-motion quilting is that you need to build the muscle memory for every design you want to quilt, and that takes lots of repetition.  The best, and really the only way I can get better is to quilt a new design all over a quilt.  That's how I learned to quilt the paisley motif on Lars's Drunken Dragons quilt, and that's how I learned to quilt stippling on the school fundraiser quilt.  I'm using quilting thread that is color matched to my fabrics for the continuous curves and the wobbles and inconsistencies that look so glaring under the bright lights of my sewing machine with my nose 2" from the quilt are going to be difficult to discern on the finished quilt, and will add to the handmade character if they are noticed.  The great thing about baby quilts is that, when they are wrapped around an adorable baby, everyone will be so excited about the baby that no one will be scrutinizing my quilt for mistakes!

So I went back to my quilting books and found that Harriet Hargrave's book Heirloom Machine Quilting and Diane Gaudynski's book Guide to Machine Quilting both describe this quilting technique, and they both suggested making little guide dots about 1/4" in from the seam in the center of each side of the square.  That way you have something to aim for when you're trying to quilt that smooth arc. 
Curve Centers Marked with Chalk Dots, Ready to Quilt
Since my fabrics are dark, I made my dots with a white chalk pencil that easily brushed off after quilting.  This did help me to quilt smoother, better continuous curves, but it was annoying to have to fuss with marking all those dots.  Since I have a lot of squares left in the quilt that I want to quilt this way and they are all the same size, I might just make myself a little template to trace around for the rest of them.  Ah, well -- everything is difficult before it becomes easy, right?

I am struggling with the weight and bulk of this quilt, despite the large throat space on my Bernina 750 QE, the Supreme Slider Teflon sheet, and the relatively manageable size of a 54" square baby quilt.  I'm not sure if it's the extra bulk and weight of the Minky or static buildup with the polyester, or what, but I really have to push and "scrub" the quilt to move it under the needle at times and it makes my neck and shoulders sore.  I am really questioning whether I'll be able to quilt my king sized pineapple log cabin when the time comes.

I won't get any more quilting done on the Amish Baby until next week, though, because I'm headed to Atlanta this afternoon for the Sewing & Quilt Expo.  Yippee!  I'm mostly going to take pattern alterations and fitting classes for garment sewing, but I did sign up for a 3-hour hands-on background filler workshop in the Gammill Longarm Studio.  The class description says it is for "Advanced Beginners," so hopefully having spent a total of about 15 minutes playing on a demo longarm machine will be enough preparation for me to get something out of the class.  My primary goal in taking the longarm workshop is to get a feel for what it is like to quilt on a frame with a longarm machine where the quilt is stationary and you move the machine to draw your quilting designs, versus quilting on a domestic sit-down machine where the machine is stationary and you draw your quilting designs by moving the quilt around under the needle.  I don't have unrealistic expectations about mastering longarm quilting in a day, but I should be able to get a better idea of whether that mode of quilting would suit me. 

If any of you will be in Atlanta for the Expo this weekend, I'd love to hear from you!  Have a great weekend and happy stitching.

I'm linking up with Let's Bee Social at Sew Fresh Quilts, WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced, and with Esther's WIPs on Wednesday linky party.  Grab a cup of coffee or whatever gets you going in the morning and check out what everyone else is working on this week!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Minky Loves Monofilament Nylon!

Quilting Is Magic!
I'm finally free-motion quilting, untethered by feed dogs and walking feet!  Hooray!  I quilted "in the ditch" around all of the colored patches on this quilt -- the squares and the turquoise half rectangle triangles -- using my walking foot, constantly turning and stuffing the quilt back under the machine while dreaming of a long arm machine on a frame and thinking about how backwards it is to try to draw anything by moving the PAPER beneath a stationary PENCIL, which is essentially what you are doing when you quilt on a domestic sewing machine.

I used SewArt Invisible Monofilament thread in Smoke with a size 60 Microtex needle and 50/2 Aurifil Mako thread in the bobbin for my ditch quilting, because my ditch quilting never stays 100% in the ditch and I didn't want anyone to notice my oopses.  I reduced my needle tension to 2.0 as usual for sewing with monofilament thread on my Bernina 750 QE sewing machine, and put the monofilament nylon on my regular horizontal thread spindle with no net or anything.  All nice and lovely, beautiful stitches, boring quilting:

Wretched, Boring, Invisible Ditch Quilting with the Walking Foot
Speaking of the walking foot -- on the Bernina 7 Series Yahoo users group, there is often discussion about whether one "needs" a walking foot for quilting on a sewing machine that has integrated Dual Feed like mine does.  There are always some who claim to have great results quilting with their dual feed and no walking foot, but there is NO WAY I could do this kind of quilting without a walking foot.  I was twisting and tugging and stuffing that quilt all over the place, and my Minky backing is hellishly slippery and shifty, and the basting spray was probably not holding things together as securely as my violent ditch quilting continued.  Maybe you can quilt straight lines across a table runner, but I can't imagine risking a large quilt that I've put a lot of hours into.  The walking foot is my friend.  It's just really boring to quilt along all those seam lines, and you don't feel like you're accomplishing anything since the quilting really is invisible unless you mess up!

Once I finished the ditch quilting, I planned to switch to using Aurifil cotton thread in the needle for the background fill quilting, but when I tested it on a sample of my black fabric, batting, and Minky backing I discovered that the cotton thread is "grabbier" than the slick monofilament, and no matter what size needle or tension settings I tried, I kept getting some of the Minky backing pile pulling up through the needle holes to the front side of my quilt. 

Cotton Thread Grabs the Minky Pile and Pulls it to the Front
Yuck!  Those white tufts in the stitches are not batting (I'm using black batting for this piece), they are the pile of the zebra Minky backing fabric.  I am so glad I started out with the monofilament, because I don't know if I would have thought to try it if I was having the problem with the pile pulling through right out of the gate.  Anyway, I'm just going to continue on with the monofilament thread, at least for the black background areas.  The monofilament doesn't pull the Minky through AT ALL.  So, note to self -- MINKY LOVES MONOFILAMENT NYLON THREAD!

By the way, I know it's very fashionable these days to diss the meandering/stippling quilting pattern as overused, but frankly this Scarlet doesn't give a damn.  I can quilt that pattern on autopilot and I think it will look good on my baby quilt and play nicely with the Minky batting.  I am also putting little horns and elf booties in my stippling even though stippling is not supposed to have any points, just to annoy any quilt police out there.  ;-)

That's enough typing for today.  Back to the quilting!
Stipplling Like No One's Watching!