Saturday, January 20, 2018

You Guys!! Look What I Quilted Yesterday! My Math Quilt Is Ready for Binding!

Our so-called "winter storm" shut down the entire city of Charlotte for three whole days, y'all.  And apparently all it takes for me to get over my Quilter's Block is three unexpected days off from EVERYTHING, spent in my pajamas, in my studio, watching YouTube tutorials.  I started -- and finished -- quilting my first real quilt on my longarm machine.  This particular quilt has been a WIP (Work In Progress) for me for two and a half years, inspired by doodling that my son Lars did on graph paper in his 8th grade math notebook.  Hence the black math equations fabric and the name "Math Is Beautiful."  This was intended as a gift to that 8th grade math teacher, who taught Lars for both 7th and 8th grade and then taught my younger son, Anders, when he was in 8th grade.  I'm looking forward to finally delivering this to her sometime soon -- and yes, she will definitely still remember who we are.  My family is, um, VERY MEMORABLE.  Ahem.  So, YAY!

I Quilted This All By Myself On My Longarm Machine!
I ended up doing a full float for this quilt because I forgot that I was supposed to pin the bottom of the backing to the backing roller and then load the quilt top before pinning the other end of the backing to the takeup roller for a partial float.  So I just went with it, even though it kind of freaked me out that the quilt top was just going to be hanging off the front of my quilt frame with the batting.

Math Quilt Loaded, Full Float Method
I was really nervous about keeping things straight and square and smooth, but this was probably the ideal sort of quilt top for this method.  It was fairly small, crisply starched, and totally flat and square to begin with.  There were no bubbles to quilt out or wavy borders to correct for.  I used my vertical and horizontal channel locks to check positioning every time I advanced the quilt and it worked out just fine.  So, although I still think I prefer partial float for most projects, if only to minimize the quilt top's exposure to dust and dog fur, I've decided that the full float method is fine for quick projects like this one.  I'm glad I tried it, even though I tried it by mistake when I meant to do it the other way!

Quilting a Pantograph with Thoroughly Modern Millie
See?  After I advanced the quilt the first time there wasn't much hanging off the edge anymore, anyway.  

I am learning SO much.  After watching my videos, I was brave enough to completely rethread the machine rather than just tying onto the previous thread and pulling it through.  I used my TOWA gauge and tweaked my bobbin tension (it's a new bobbin case; I purchased one for each thread type because unlike my Berninas' pricey parts, an APQS bobbin case costs only $12!), and then I monkeyed around with my top tension until I had a nice, balanced stitch on the top and bottom.  No more fear of touching tension dials!  My APQS dealer said she didn't think the TOWA gauge was necessary, and she's probably right for most quilters, but I liked being able to set my bobbin tension to 150 and see what that looked like, and then set it to 180 and see what that looked like, and then put it right back down at 150 again if I wanted to rather than just going by feel.  It's a personality thing; I approach these things like it's a science project and I like being able to take measurements.  Also, the TOWA bobbin case tension gauge has won some kind of Deming Medal, and Deming is actually my maiden name so this contraption LITERALLY has my name on it!

TOWA Bobbin Case Tension Gauge
Because my Millie machine has the smaller L bobbin, that's the size TOWA gauge I bought.  I won't be able to use the TOWA gauge with my Bernina 750 bobbin case, but I'll bet I can use it with the bobbin cases for my Singer Featherweight machines if they need adjusting. 

Back to the Math Quilt -- I also allowed more excess batting and backing beyond the sides of the quilt top this time than I did on my two practice quilts so I could check tension and stitch quality on a piece of scrap fabric.  Seasoned longarm quilters have advised me to check stitch quality throughout the quilting process, not just at the beginning of the project, because any number of things can make it go out of whack unbeknownst to you and it's better to test and adjust throughout than to get to the end of your quilting and have to rip everything out!  So when I advance to custom quilting, I'll want to test and adjust with every thread change, maybe even with each new bobbin.   I'll keep that in mind from now on when I'm calculating how much batting and backing I need for each quilt top.

Extra Batting and Backing on Sides for Testing Stitch Quality
The other nice thing about that extra batting and backing at the sides is that it eliminated the problems I was having with the carriage of the quilting machine knocking into or getting hung up on my Grip Lite side tension clamps.  I bought aluminum rods from my APQS dealer that slide under the Velcro strips to lift the clamps out of the way, but they lift the edge where the clamp is holding onto the quilt backing, too.  With more excess backing, the actual quilt remained completely level all the way out to its edges and only the excess backing fabric is lifted with the clamps.  I had 7" of extra batting on each side and about 4 1/2" of extra batting this time and I wouldn't want less than that.  Next time I might like a couple more inches of batting for my test stitching area, though.  

Aluminum Rod Raises Grip Lite Clamps Away from Machine Carriage or Ruler Base
After hemming and hawing about it, I ended up choosing what I hoped would be a beginner-friendly edge-to-edge pantograph design for this quilt.  It's called Popcorn LG from Willow Leaf Studio.  I'm using Glide trilobal polyester quilting thread in Cool Grey 7, top and bobbin, and a black batting due to the dark colors in the quilt top.

Following a Paper Pantograph Pattern With Laser Light from Back Side of Machine
So, quilting pantograph patterns is not as easy as it looks!  It is VERY difficult to stay on the line.  That's because the quilting machine is riding on a carriage with wheels on the X and Y axes, so it moves much more easily vertically and horizontally than it does diagonally, when all the wheels are working together.  I'm tracing these nice, rounded popcorn shapes from the back of the machine and when I go around to look at what I've actually quilted, I have made weirdly squared off popcorns with strange little toe appendages:

First Row Quilted.  Square Popcorn With Strange Toe Thingys.
I discovered that I had to slow down and try harder to stay on the lines and quilt rounded shapes that look round instead of square.  I also learned that if I engage my core (abdominal) muscles and quilt with my entire upper body, that gives me much better control of the machine than when I'm only using my arms.  

Quilting Blind From Behind
But I'm far from mastering this pantograph thing.  There were a few moments where everything clicked and I felt really in control, but it took me awhile to get to that groove each time I started quilting a new row and I wasn't able to stay there until the end of the row.  I think it's like driving a car; it just takes a lot of practice before the car (or the quilting machine!) becomes like an extension of your body that you can control consistently and accurately without thinking about it.  I can definitely understand why computer robotics are becoming so popular with professional quilters for these edge to edge designs!

Busy Prints Camouflage Subpar Quilting
This is hardly award-winning quilting, but it's totally fine for this quilt.  All of the busy prints hide the quilting anyway, and I'll bet it will look great once it goes through the wash.  It had better look great after it goes through the wash, because I can't give it as a gift if it looks ugly!

Another thing I got right for the first time on this quilt was machine basting the sides properly.  Remember what happened to the sides of my first practice quilt?

Wonky Crooked Edges On First Practice Quilt
Well, this time I did more of a basting tack stitch every couple of inches rather than a line of regular stitching.  That kept everything straight and square while still allowing the quilt layers to shift slightly as the quilting stitches drew everything inward.  That first practice quilt was really densely quilted, too, like a heavily custom quilted quilt would be.  I'll bet basting and stabilizing between blocks throughout the WHOLE quilt prior to adding any custom fills would help on that kind of project, too.  

Tack-Basting With Single Stitch Function and Channel Locks
I engaged my channel locks and used the single stitch function to baste about 1/8" from the edge all the way across, keeping everything nice and straight.  And when the quilting was finished and I took it off the frame to trim the excess batting and backing away, it turns out that this is probably the most perfectly straight and square quilt I have ever made.  Even though it was a full float, and the quilt top was only secured with those tack-basting stitches!  I'm amazed!

It's Straight!  It's Square!  Hallelujah!
As you see above, that tension practice scrap just gets trimmed off after quilting is complete, and I'm able to salvage the extra backing fabric for other uses so it's not wasted at all.  I might even use that for the binding.

Look, Ma!  No Pleats Or Puckers!
I am SO IN LOVE with my quilting machine, y'all!  The actual quilting part of this quilt only took me a couple hours, once you subtract all of the time I spent researching and testing.  No more safety pin basting, no more pleats and puckers on the backs of my quilts, and so many more creative possibilities!  I can't wait to get the next quilt on my frame!!  

But before I do that, I need to design, machine embroider, and attach a quilt label and then cut, sew, and hand finish the binding.  That will involve another educational delay, since I recently upgraded my Bernina embroidery design software to the newest version 8 and haven't played with it yet.  I'm upgrading from version 6, so I'm sure the interface is different and some of the tools are going to be moved around.  And I'm sick, too, which slows me down -- but only slightly.  I can't wait to show you guys this quilt once it's totally and completely finished at last, only two and a half years after I started it!  

Meanwhile, my replacement fabrics for the Cat Eyes on my Tabby Mountain quilt have arrived, and so has the backing fabric for that quilt.  That's going to be the SECOND real quilt on my longarm frame, since it will be quick to piece.  The less time it takes me to piece the quilt top, the braver I am about trying something new and risking disaster!

Tabby Mountain Quilt In Progress, Up Next for Quilting
I'm thinking that I will start by SID (stitching in the ditch) along all of the horizontal seams between rows with invisible thread, using a straight edge ruler.  Then I will roll it back up and SID all the diagonal seams between triangles, also with invisible thread, and then I can go back to the top again to play with ruler work and free motion fills using color matched threads.  That will be a really good skill builder to prepare me for the THIRD real quilt headed to my machine, my Paint Me A Story bear paw quilt:

Paint Me A Story Quilt Needs Custom Quilting
Okay.  Time to wrap up this blog post so I can design and embroider a quilt label.  Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!


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

I'm so glad to hear you finally had fun with the machine and got over that hurdle that you were having. I have heard of some that had gotten a long arm and it is still sitting idle in the garage or the studio or wherever but completely untouched as the quilter is afraid to touch it. I think the quilt looks great.

Julie said...

What fun and I enjoyed reading your process. I don't have a longarm, but I have played with them. The quilt is great! Being from a math geek family it is pretty awesome! Teachers remember my family too! :)

Beth @ Cooking Up Quilts said...

So much of what you said could've come from me Rebecca - I've learned those same lessons over the past several months. I always float my quilt tops; it's so much easier for me to keep things straight/square and I can see any issues (puffy blocks, wavy borders) that will be coming up that I'll have to deal with. I fold the quilt up so it's not dragging the floor and it stays nice and neat. Those pantographs can be tricky! I've only done one and haven't tried another - just haven't found the right quilt yet. You did a great job on the math quilt, and I'll be waiting to see your label. I have a new embroidery machine I would love to use for labels but don't totally know what I'm doing yet! :)

SJSM said...

Congratulations! Learning all the procedures and skills to get this quilted is a giant step in your use of a long arm machine. You did well and having the quilt be perfectly square is just the proof you need to know you’ve got this. Cant wait to see you rolling all those quilts through the machine.

colleen said...

Really nice. You did a lovely job on this quilt

Sue Daurio said...

What fun! i agree pantographs are not as easy as they seem that they should be. I would "dance" with mine and that helped a lot. The other thing that helped me was recognizing when I had a death grip on those handles, you need to relax and let it flow smoothly. Can't wait to see what comes next.