Tuesday, June 13, 2017

My Daily Thread Scribbles, a Few Snafus, Yet Steady Improvement

Good morning!  If you've come here looking for inspiring photos of lovely projects, I'm sorry to have to disappoint you.  I've just been plodding away at the enormous practice quilt I loaded on my new APQS Millenium longarm machine.  I bought a package of 80/20 cotton/poly 120" square King batting from JoAnn's and pieced three different colored fabrics together to create the top, with solid muslin for the backing, and I'm "scribble quilting" this practice piece a little bit each day until the entire thing is full of quilted doodling.  Hopefully when this comes off the frame I will see a big difference between my initial efforts at the top of the sample quilt and what my quilting looks like at the bottom of the quilt.  But a REAL quilt is going on the frame when this practice piece comes off, no matter what.  The only way to get better at anything is to KEEP DOING IT!

Longarm Scribble Quilting Gradually Improving
So the big excitement is that after advancing my quilt a couple of times, I finished up all of the yellow fabric at the top and I'm now quilting on the hot pink fabric that makes up the middle portion of my sample quilt.  Yay!  I chose three different fabrics on purpose, to keep it interesting.  After all of the pink is quilted, the last fabric at the bottom of the quilt is a turquoise blue batik.

I am seeing a little improvement, and learning a lot along the way.  I am most pleased that my curves are getting smoother, my circles are looking rounder, and I'm doing a better job of quilting closed shapes where a line of quilting stitches must meet up exactly with a previous line of stitching without crossing over, like in the paisley motif.  I'm satisfied with my stippling, those little hook things, and loopies (how do you like that for technical terminology?!).  The paisley fill needs work but it's much better than it was initially.  What have I learned?  Well, for one thing, I've learned to SLOW DOWN, especially on the larger curves.  When I try to zoom around a large curve too quickly, that's when it starts looking like a rounded box instead of a curve.  If I move the machine slower, I have better control.

I'm keeping a list of questions for my dealer, since I still haven't scheduled my day of training with her (totally my fault, not hers).  I know that I want her to take me through loading a quilt step-by-step.  I got this practice quilt loaded onto my frame by referencing my owner's manual and several YouTube videos, and it's fine for my immediate purpose of learning how to "draw" with my machine, but if this was a real quilt I'd be freaking out about a couple of things:

Yikes!  Quilt Pulling In at Edges!
So when I first loaded the quilt onto the frame, I basted about 1/4" from the raw edge of my top along the top as well as along the left and right sides, and attached my little clamp thingys (which may or may not be attached to my frame correctly, and may or may not be exerting the correct amount of tension) to my backing fabric only.  Then I quilted everything I could pretty densely, advanced the quilt to the next unquilted area, basted down the left and right sides, and quilted that area densely before advancing again, and so on.  See how much my quilt is pulling in from the edges at the bottom of the area I've finished quilting?  See how the unquilted quilt top on the roller is so much wider than the already quilted part, creating those diagonal wrinkle lines?  I know that quilts "draw up" as they are quilted, and the amount of that quilt shrinkage is proportional to the amount of quilt stitching.  But I'm also concerned that I may have stretched my quilt top horizontally as I loaded it onto the quilt top roller, trying to smooth it out from side to side.  And even if this shrinking quilt phenomenon is normal and to be expected, I still need to know how to deal with it properly in order to keep my quilts nice and square with STRAIGHT edges throughout the quilting process.  Because this is what is happening with my practice quilt as I advance it, and this would NOT be cool if it was a real quilt:

This is how nice and straight and smooth everything is when I advance to a new section of the quilt and baste down the sides:

Basted Quilt Edge is Nice and Straight as it Should Be
...and this is how that same side looks once the quilting is completed in that section and I've advanced to the next area of the quilt:

...But the Quilting Pulls It In Badly From the Sides, and then THIS!
A few thoughts.  First, I have started out by loading up the biggest sample quilt that fits on my frame, and I've been quilting densely from side to side.  The large size of this quilt plus the high density quilting are exacerbating an issue that I might not have with a smaller quilt.  If this was a real quilt, I would either be stitching an allover edge-to-edge pantograph design that was more open than my quilt doodle scribble stitching, so it would not draw up as much.  And finally, even if this was a real King sized quilt that I wanted to have dense custom quilting, I would probably do all of the stitch-in-the-ditch quilting first to stabilize everything before going back to do the detailed quilting in each section.  That would give me a lot more control than two little basting lines spaced 120" apart from one another.  Still, I'm looking forward to finding out exactly how my dealer loads her quilts at my training, because there are sure to be tricks and tips she has picked up over the years for getting the best results possible.

One more little yucky-poo -- I discovered a couple of pucker pleats on the backing side of the quilt with the last advance:

See Those Little Pleats?
They are minor, to be sure, and if it was a real quilt they might not even be noticeable once the finish quilt was washed and did that crinkly puckery thing that quilts do when laundered, but the goal is of course to have NO pleats.  So I need to be more careful about making sure all three layers are nice and smooth every time I advance the quilt, before I start quilting again.  However, when I look at that picture above, before I even notice the two little pleats, I notice how beautiful and even the stitches are on both sides of the quilt, top and bottom.  I just loaded my machine up with Glide thread top and bottom and out come gorgeous stitches without my having to adjust anything!  I'm very happy with the APQS stitch regulator, too.  

In Matching Thread, Those Wobbles and Oopses Would Be Near Invisible
Honestly, I'm surprised by how well this is going.  I had read all of these horror stories of quilters who invested in longarm machines that they were never able to use successfully, and I fully expected to be discouraged and regretting my purchase of by now!  I thought it was going to take me months of practicing every day before I could attempt to quilt a REAL quilt without fear of ruining it with ugly, wobbly stitching.  However, although I'm nowhere near ready for heirloom feathers, I definitely feel like I have a handful of simple freehand quilting motifs that I could execute reasonably well on an everyday quilt top.  I daresay my thread scribbles are starting to look halfway decent, and this is a high-contrast thread that I'm using, not a blending thread like I'm going to use on a real quilt.  I'm feeling a little impatient about finishing up the practice quilt so I can get one of my real quilts on the frame!

Seriously, this is SO FUN!!!
See how much better my little "olives" (double circle loops) are looking after just a few days?  I tell myself that I'm going to do practice quilting for 30 minutes and then do something else, but then I get into a groove and lose track of time. 

I Marked a Grid Outline in Chalk for This Pattern
In the picture above, you can really see that I still have a lot less control over the movement of the machine on the diagonal versus true horizontal or vertical motion.  So I'll keep working on that.  What else is left to practice?  Well, two things, and I'm not sure which order I'll tackle them.  I want to be sure to try out a few rows of pantograph quilting from the back side of the machine, and I want to get the acrylic ruler base on the machine, switch back to the ruler presser foot, and practice quilting some straight lines and arcs with my rulers.  I know I will want to stitch in the ditch around my bear paw blocks, and I need to get comfortable with that technique before I try it on a real quilt.

Hmmm...  I just remembered that I have a little pile of orphan blocks sitting in a corner of my studio, reject blocks from various projects that I didn't end up using because they were the wrong size or whatever.  If I piece those together into a little practice top, they would be perfect for practicing stitch-in-the-ditch with a ruler!

But first:

1. I'm going to sew the borders on that Bear Paw quilt TODAY and set it aside for quilting.  
2. Time to make another pineapple log cabin block!  31 blocks are finished, 11 more to go.

Of course, if I don't get away from this computer, I won't accomplish anything at all...
Happy Stitching, everyone!

I'm linking up with:
·       Let’s Bee Social at http://sewfreshquilts.blogspot.ca/
·       Midweek Makers at http://quiltfabrication.blogspot.com/
·       WOW WIP on Wednesday at www.estheraliu.blogspot.com 
·       Needle and Thread Thursday at http://www.myquiltinfatuation.blogspot.com/ 


Frog Quilter said...

Wow your practice looks really good. Remember practice it will come in time. Charity quilts are great for practice and the recipients LOVE. Another is pet quilts for the animal hospital. They won't judge you.

Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

I don't know how much different it is from hand quilting 3 roller from to a long arm but I never basted my 3 layers together on the sides - when you attach your side clamps or whatever you have you tighten it to pull it tight then the 3 layers will be the same width on the sides if you know what I mean? I have not seen it basted on the sides like that - I 'm sure you will find out -- I think you are doing really well though - this coming from a person that has never long arm quilted LOL- but looking at your work I think you are really learning well.
Yes you are right some get a long arm and barely touch it - I knew on person locally who is quite well off - her husband bought her one to go in her huge sewing room without asking if she wanted one - well she didn't really - she took a few lessons and as far as I know has still barely touched in the 5+ years that she has had it.

Rebecca Grace said...

Good idea, Frog Quilter! I can cut up my finished king sized practice quilt into pet sized blankets and just serge the edges to finish them. I hate waste!

Jill said...

I give you credit for all your practice time as I would not have the patience. I just want to get started sewing and/or quilting. You are fortunate to have a large enough space for a long-arm. I imagine by the time you get down with a king-size practice quilt, you will be good enough to work on a real quilt. Enjoy.

Teresa said...

It is looking really really good! You are a natural. The practice is really important, and the other stuff will become automatic. Like basting the sides, and keeping the backing from puckers. I longarm on a Gammill so I am not exactly sure about the setup differences. If you have not found her already, there is a gal on YouTube at Whirls and Swirls. Tracey? Its an APQS channel from Canada I think. But she does a daily video with some really great simple to follow free motion motifs. There are some FB longarm groups that are also very helpful at times. One other good resource is Lori Kennedy, website theinboxjaunt. Of course you probably know all this, but just in case. Keep going and absolutely keep practicing, you will learn something every time. Bravo!!!

Plum Cox said...

That looks terrific! You must be pleased with your progress - especially since you haven't had your training day yet! Well done!

Beth @ Cooking Up Quilts said...

I think it's so smart to load that size of a practice quilt. There's definite improvement in the stitching - it looks really good. I'm working on a king and haven't had the issue with the side pulling in. But, I'm basting the sides, then stitching in the ditch 8 inches away. The quilting in that 8 inches on each side is piano keys so not real dense. The rest of my quilting is pretty dense (in the middle of the quilt top) but I'm using a thin batting and I think that affects that side pulling. I will be interested to hear what your dealer has to say about your sides. I think you're doing fantastic, and admire your patience in practicing on that size before starting a 'real' quilt!

Karen in Breezy Point said...

I think your quilting is coming along beautifully! I'm wondering if the pulling in is from stretching everything too tightly. I started out doing that and have learned to relax things a bit--seems to help.

Sandra Walker said...

Oh don't I know the "if I don't get away from this computer" phenomenon! And here I sit... Great practice work! I loaded up boring old muslin my first few practice quilts, drew out a 6" or so grid, and did a few of Leah Day's designs each day. It was an excellent way to learn. Yes the diagonal is still (not quite 3 years later) the hardest for me to do. As for pulling in, you answered it: stitch in the ditch to stabilize. Angela Walters recommends it and I did that when FMQ-ing on my Bernina for years and have never had a pucker to deal with. Also what Karen above me says is true too, don't anchor the layers too tight. I'm still on a learning curve with rulers; last year got the QP curved ones and have just used the small and medium ones a bit, with pretty good success. Isn't it wonderful when thread just works? :-)

Unknown said...

Thats amazing and your practicing daily is really paying off. I keep telling myself to practice but l never seem to get round to it, l blame the fact l have no set sewing room and have to drag my mach8ne out every day.
Keep going l love what your doing..

Susan said...

Your practice is looking great! The more you do it, the more it will become second nature - keep up the good work! Thanks for sharing today on Midweek Makers

colleen said...

I don't know anything I just like the work you have ✅
I'd would be proud to sleep 😴 under your practice quilt

Janet M said...

I rented time on a long arm once after taking an all day class to learn the basics. I don't remember doing any basting except at the very top horizontally from edge to edge. No side basting. That was a few years ago and unfortunately the shop closed shortly after I paid $$$ for lessons!

The Joyful Quilter said...

Your artistry is EXCELLENT!! Everything else will come with time.
I called for help on one of my last quilts and was told two interesting tips.
1. Baste the top half of the quilt toward the TOP of the quilt and the bottom half of the quilt toward the BOTTOM of the quilt. (It seems to help a great deal.) It kept my lower right corner from getting all out of whack on my last quilt.
2. Let the fabric lay where it lives. (In other words, I was "smoothing" the quilt top harder than I should have been. Pushing the top to far toward the edges or too far toward the bottom edge of the quilt.)
The woman said that I should gently press down in front of or behind the needle, as determined by where the "lump" needs to live. Apparently, you can "ease in" a world of bubbles in this manner.