Monday, May 21, 2018

Slow Stitching Sunday: To Hell With Elmer's Glue All Over My Iron. Back to My Old-School Binding Methods

Because a Needle and Thread Feel Good, and Sticky Glue All Over a Hot Iron Feels Bad
Well, folks -- I had lofty intentions of binding this quilt entirely by machine yesterday using one or more of the glue basted binding tutorials that are floating around out there.  As you can see, I abandoned that adventure, carried my not-quite-finished quilt out to the deck, and started stitching the binding down to the back by hand with my trusty size 11 Bohin applique needle and Aurifil Mako 50/2 cotton thread.  *AHHHH!!*

Look How It Glows In the Late Afternoon Sun!
Can you hear the birdies chirping in the background?  I love how the colors glow in the late afternoon sunlight like a fiery sunset.  And I love letting my mind just empty while my fingers make tiny stitches on autopilot with no stress whatsoever.  Yes, it might take me 10 hours to sew the binding down all the way around this quilt, but I'd rather spend 10 hours relaxing than two hours of anxiety, burned fingers, and sticky glue all over the ironing board, which was what I experienced when I attempted to follow the "easy" methods of machine binding with Elmer's School Glue.
Green Spool Aurifil, 40 weight 2-ply, Stronger than Orange Spool 50 weight 2-ply

Updated 6/4/2018: Note to Self -- Don't use the 50/2 weight Aurifil for hand stitching binding next time!  It's too fine and it kept breaking.  The 40/2 weight Aurifil on the GREEN spools is a much better choice, or else a 50/3 cotton thread like Gutterman or Mettler would be a good choice.

Well, in all fairness, what I was really trying to do was my own mash-up of a couple of different machine binding tutorials.  I started with Hayley Grzych's Master Machine Binding tutorial from Bernina's We All Sew education blog.

My thinking was that I own the Bernina machine with the features and accessories used in this tutorial so I might as well take advantage of them, right?  So, as per this Bernina tutorial, I cut my binding strips 2 1/2" wide (rather than 2 1/8" or 2 1/4" as I've done in the past).  This was a mistake, as I'll explain in a moment.

Walking Foot #50, Needle +5 (All the Way to the Farthest Right Position)
Hayley's Bernina binding tutorial has you cut your strips 2 1/2" wide for a 3/8" finished binding, because that's the easiest binding width to eyeball with the Bernina walking foot.  As shown above, when the needle on a 9 mm Bernina machine like my 750QE is moved to the farthest right position (+5), the distance between the needle and the outside right edge of the walking foot will be 3/8".  With most batting, the 2 1/2" strip width, when folded in half and stitched to the front of a quilt, will be just the right width to wrap around the edge of the quilt and cover the stitching line sufficiently to be secured when you go back and stitch in the ditch by machine.  

Stitching Binding to Front of Quilt With Walking Foot and Seam Guide
I popped the seam guide that came with Patchwork Foot #97D onto my machine before stitching the binding to the front of my quilt for added "straight seam insurance."  Even with the glare of bright lights against shiny metal and middle-aged eyesight, the seam guide creates a barrier at the edge of the walking foot so that I'm sure of an even, exact 3/8" seam all the way around the quilt.

Sewing Binding to Front of Quilt
Hmmm, this binding strip is noticeably wider than what I'm used to!  I'm thinking that this must be because I need a little bit more binding on the backing side to ensure that the folded binding edge is secured to the back of the quilt when I stitch in the ditch on the right side, so I keep sewing it to my quilt, all the way around, carefully mitering the corners and joining the two loose ends with my little binding tool.  It looks great, smooth and pucker free all the way around thanks to my walking foot feeding all of those layers through the machine so evenly.  

Pressing the Binding Away From the Quilt Top
Then I take the quilt over to my ironing board to press the binding away from the quilt top.  Oh, how lovely...

Nice, Straight Binding!  Looking Good!
...Until I get to a seam intersection that was 1/4" away from the outer edge of the quilt top, and see that my perfect 3/8" binding seam has chopped off EVERY SINGLE POINT.  DUH!!!!!  

Buh-Bye, Triangle Points!
Exactly 1/8" Chopped Off Every Point
Every Precise Little Point Along the Top and Bottom Edges Is GONE.
If my quilt had a plain outer border, I could make my binding whatever width my heart desired from a scant 1/4" to an inch or more with no problems.  But when there is patchwork at the outer edge of the quilt with 1/4" seam allowances, the binding can ONLY be 1/4" wide without chopping off triangle points.  Oh, I could have left an eighth of an inch excess batting and backing beyond the quilt top edge to accommodate my wider binding, but I think it would be harder to keep that binding seam allowance straight and consistent all the way around the quilt if I was looking at fluffy, see-through batting next to my seam guide instead of the well-defined raw edge of the quilt top.  

I decided NOT to remove my binding, trim 1/8" off the width, and resew it.  It is what it is.

Now, Hayley's binding tutorial on the Bernina blog tells me to just wrap the folded binding edge around to the back of the quilt, make sure it covers the previous stitching line, and just pin it in place before stitching in the ditch from the front side of the quilt.  But when you put stick pins through thick, puffy quilt layers, you get a little wobble where each pin compressed the layers.  I didn't want to risk those wobbles.  So I decided to switch to one of the glue basted machine sewn binding tutorials at this point, the most famous being Sharon Schambers' painstaking technique for show quilts.  Sharon is an Elmer's School Glue junkie who even glues her binding to the FRONT of her quilt before doing any stitching at all, and then she glues the folded edge of her binding to the BACK of her quilt even if she is going to be finishing her binding by hand, heat setting the glue with a hot iron as she goes along.  And her finished bindings look AMAZING.

Well, I have never even pinned my binding to my quilts before I start sewing it on, and I have never had any problem with shifting or puckering.  I suspect that's because I'm always using my Bernina's Dual Feed and/or using a walking foot to ensure that my unpinned layers of fabrics and batting are all feeding through my machine without shifting.  Maybe the extra step of gluing would make a difference if I didn't have the options of using a walking foot or Dual Feed, and I'll certainly keep it in mind if I ever need to sew binding on with one of my vintage Featherweight machines, but for now, my motto is "If It Ain't Broke, We Ain't Gonna Try to Fix It."

But my friend Susan over at Quilt Fabrication has a great tutorial showing how, after sewing her binding to the front of her quilted placemats by machine the way I did on this quilt, she used Elmer's School Glue (heat set by ironing) to secure the folded edge of her binding on the back of her placemats before stitching in the ditch from the right side.  She said it was easy to do and her placemats came out great, so I decided to give it a try.

Machine Binding Sample
In the photos at left, you can see how I repurposed one of my tension testing scraps for practicing how I was going to glue baste the folded edge of my binding to the back of my quilt and then finish it by stitching in the ditch.  Since I have so many different colors along the outer edge of my quilt top, I threaded up my Bernina with invisible monofilament thread in the needle, leaving purple Aurifil Mako 50/2 cotton thread in the bobbin.  On the front of the quilt top, the needle stitches will land just INSIDE the edge of the binding, so the needle thread must match or camouflage with whatever fabric(s) are along the outer edges of the quilt itself.  Monofilament is perfect for disappearing on all of those different colors and prints.  But on the backing side of the quilt, the stitches are going right on top of the binding itself.  That's why the bobbin thread should be an exact match to the binding fabric.

I lowered my needle tension to 2.25 for the monofilament thread, and decided that I liked a stitch length of 2.25 as well.  As per the Bernina binding tutorial, I used Edge Stitch Foot #10D with Dual Feed engaged to stitch in the ditch from the front of the quilt, keeping my eye on the needle as I was stitching rather than watching the blade of the guide on the presser foot.  (I had a 75/11 Quilting needle in the machine and could have switched to a smaller size 60/8 needle with the monofilament to leave smaller holes in the fabric, but I didn't bother because I know the holes will close up when I launder the quilt anyway.  Also, occasionally I am lazy).  

I don't know; I think the sample looks pretty good, don't you?  I could live with that, for a completely machine sewn quilt binding.  So I grabbed my partially-bound quilt, headed over to the ironing board, and started trying to glue my binding down to the back side of my quilt.  And then my stress level -- and my blood pressure -- shot through the roof as I struggled with my obnoxiously puffy wool batting that refused to stay flattened long enough for me to glue the binding down and dry the glue with my iron.

Quilt Wars Episode 5: The Puffy Batting Strikes Back
See what I mean?  One of the things quilters love about wool batting is its puffiness, its resilient loft that doesn't go flat and limp between quilting stitches like an all-cotton batting.  But the downside is that the wool batting won't even flatten temporarily so I can get the binding glued down.  I've got glue all over my fingers, glue all over my iron, and I've been struggling with it for about 30 minutes with only about 10" of glued binding to show for myself, binding which is not even glued perfectly straight anyway.  

Then I remembered the 1/4" wide washaway fusible "Wonder Tape" that I use for securing knit garment hems in place prior to coverstitching them on my serger.  There are several brands of this stuff -- Dritz and Collins are the most commonly available.  They are like a very thin, double-sided sticky tape that fuses in place with ironing and completely washes out of the finished project when it's laundered.  Lightbulb moment!  I started putting it along the edge of my binding, although now that I'm thinking about it, it would be even better to apply the tape directly to the back of the quilt, right along the stitching line.

Washaway Fusible Tape for Mess-Free Glue Basting!
This alleviated my frustration with the sticky mess of the Elmer's School Glue.  However, the puffy batting edge was still giving me grief and the process was going SO slowly that I began to question how much time I was really saving with this "quick and easy machine binding" that I was trying to do.  Also -- and this was really the deciding factor -- the whole reason I was in my sewing room at all on Saturday afternoon is that I was taking a break from working on music for Sunday morning that was not going well at all and I was getting more and more freaked out as the hours ticked by and it wasn't getting better...  I decided some "fabric therapy" would help me to clear my mind of all the "ANXIE-TEA."  As it turns out, struggling with uncooperative puffy batting and repeatedly burning myself with a hot iron while I try to learn a new method of quilt binding was NOT the relaxing break that I needed!

Obviously, I survived my latest opportunity to make a fool of myself in church yesterday, because I'm still here to tell you about it.  And my quilt is still not done, because hand stitched binding takes forever.  I don't care; I'm recuperating today.

Monday Lisa and I Both Had Rough Weekends
I've not totally written off machine binding; I just wasn't up to it this weekend, for this quilt.  I think I need to experiment on smaller projects that are not already earmarked as special gifts, and remember that struggling to learn something new in the sewing room -- while valuable for growing skills -- is NOT relaxing and therapeutic in the way that hand stitching, chain piecing, and other previously mastered skills can be.  Taking a break from ONE challenging, stressful activity that isn't going well only to switch to ANOTHER challenging, stressful activity that isn't going well is a recipe for disaster!

Here are my takeaways from this aborted machine binding attempt:

  1. Unless my quilt has a plain outer border, the binding width must be dictated by the 1/4" seam allowances along the outside edge of the quilt top.  That means binding strips are cut at either 2 1/8" for thinner cotton batting or 2 1/4" for a thicker, fluffier batting, and the binding gets sewn to the quilt with a 1/4" seam allowance!
  2. Regardless of whether I'm going to finish the binding by hand or by machine, I need a 50 weight cotton thread that is an exact match to my binding fabric.  I had to make a separate trip back to my Bernina shop for the purple Aurifil thread because I didn't remember that when I was shopping for the binding fabric, and my stash of 50 weight cotton thread is primarily neutral blender colors that I use for piecing.
  3. I should at least try using Wonder Clips (rather than glue or pins) to hold the binding in place for machine stitching.  The Wonder Clips have the advantage of less distortion where the 1 cm wide clamp compresses the fabric compared to pinning, and they also won't stab me or catch on the quilt, snagging the fabric as I'm wrestling with the big, bulky quilt under the sewing machine, and using the clips to secure the binding edge would be faster than any glue or fusible method.  
  4. If, after trying the Wonder Clips, I'm still not happy with how the binding comes out, then using a fusible washaway Wonder Tape along the stitching line is probably the way to go over glue.  Not saying there's anything wrong with glue for those who use it successfully, but I was getting glue all over myself like I was a kindergartener struggling with arts and crafts -- I'm pretty sure I even had glue in my HAIR.  So, Wonder Tape is my friend.
  5. As for the Dilemma of the Puffy Batting Edges:  I think that, if I was using a cotton batting or even an 80/20 cotton/poly blend, the batting at the edge of the quilt would have been easily smashed down into submission just with the iron.  Alternatively, I could have run a line of basting stitches right inside of the trimmed edge of the quilt to compress and secure the quilt layers before attempting to bind it.  Or I could have compressed and secured the edges of the quilt with my serger before binding it, the way I do with my Minky backed quilts before I apply prepackaged satin binding.  But again, the more additional steps involved with machine binding, the less attractive it is as an alternative to hand stitched binding.  Now I'm going to be basting, serging, pressing, gluing and fusing before I can even start stitching the binding down?  
  6. One more thing I want to remember: Since I did glue down a good 12-14" of binding before I threw in the towel, I was able to discover that I do NOT like trying to push my needle through the stiff, glued fabric layers when I'm hand stitching binding!  Susan Schamber says she feels that Elmer's School Glue is basically like a starch product that helps to "stabilize" fabric for stitching, but I found the glue VERY difficult to stitch through.  Maybe I used more glue than she uses, and I'm sure it wouldn't pose a problem for the sewing machine, but for hand stitching binding, I have no problem wrapping the binding around the edge of the quilt as I go along, so the time I wasted spent gluing and fusing the binding edge in place was really a total waste.  Having the binding edge already sewn down all the way around the quilt would also make it difficult to hide the knots and thread tails when I'm hand stitching and need a new length of thread.
But for now, the binding of this quilt and any others will have to wait.  My kids get home from school soon and, before they burst through the door with their whooping and hollering, I need to review jazz music for tonight's VOX rehearsal.

Have a great week, everyone!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

...And Now, Hand Stitching the Machine Embroidered Quilt Label

Appliqueing the Label to the Quilt Back Prior to Binding
So remember the label for my Tabby Mountain quilt that I designed in my Bernina v8 Designer Plus embroidery software and stitched out on my B 750QE sewing machine?  I designed and stitched out the label back in March, and stuck it on my design wall until the quilt was finished.  

Machine Embroidered, But Sewn to the Quilt Backing By Hand
There is a fatigue that sets in near the end of the quilting process, a desire to just be DONE WITH IT already, and I think that's why so many quilters don't label their quilts at all.  They want to "just get it done," and plan to add a label "later," but then they get excited about a new project and later never comes.  I try to combat that tendency by getting my label ready BEFORE I start quilting, so that it's ready to go as soon as I trim the finished quilt.

Hand/Machine Wash COLD Gentle, Dry Flat or Tumble LOW, DO NOT OVERDRY!
This quilt does have a wool batting, so I've included care instructions on my label.  I don't want to scare off my gift recipient from using her quilt with overly involved care instructions, but the main points to convey are washing in COLD water instead of warm, GENTLE cycle if machine washed (less vigorous agitation and a less aggressive spin cycle) and to avoid overdrying the quilt.   I used this batting on my son Lars's Drunken Dragons quilt several years ago and, even though I confess that I have not always followed those care instructions myself, that quilt is aging nicely.  The wool batting is warm and snuggly and has a nice drape, even with a densely quilted quilt, and I can tell as I'm hand stitching the label that it's a great batting for hand quilting as well.  My needle is just gliding through it like a hot knife cutting into a stick of butter. 

I like to put my quilt label in one of the corners of my quilts so that only two sides of the label need to be appliqued to the quilt backing.  The other two sides will be secured by the binding stitches.  That helps to ensure the label won't ever fall off the quilt (although my hand stitches are spaced as close together as machine stitches, so they're pretty secure).  

One funny thing -- I'm using 60/2 cotton embroidery thread to applique the label to the quilt backing, and it feels like I'm sewing with ROPE now that I've grown accustomed to using YLI silk thread for needle turned applique!  

I did end up having to buy binding fabric, but I found a pretty purple fabric at my local Bernina dealer 5 minutes from my house rather than having to travel to my not-quite-local quilt shop (also a Bernina dealer, coincidentally) that is between 40 minutes and an hour and a half away, depending on whether I hit rush hour traffic on the Interstate.  I wish my local Bernina dealer carried more fabric inventory, and more contemporary fabric lines (Tula Pink, Kona and Bella Solids, Kaffe Fassett), like the faraway dealer does.  Anyway, today I didn't need a whole bunch of different fabrics; I just needed ONE fabric that would complement the fabrics in my quilt for a binding, and I'm glad I found it at my Bernina dealer's shop.  It's so nice to walk in and be greeted people who treat me like family and call me by name.

Eagerly Awaiting Binding!
And now, here it is nearly 9 PM, and I have prewashed/preshrunk my binding fabric but haven't yet cut and joined the strips, let alone sewn it to my quilt.  

So obviously, my To-Do for Tuesday has got to be BINDING THIS QUILT!  And that's it, folks, because whenever I try to come up with a list of weekly goals for this linky, I just end up feeling badly about not reaching them.  ONE goal, that's all: Just the binding!

I'm linking up with: 

Monday, May 14, 2018

I Can See Clearly Now, the Quilting's Done: Tabby Mountain Is Off the Frame, Ready for Binding!

Thank you SO MUCH, all of you who reached out to me with kindness and encouragement after my last blog post!  Those "reinforcements" were just what the troops and I needed to power through the Russian Winter of Our Discontented Quilting over the weekend.  See, I'm mixing historical metaphors with literary metaphors -- 'cause I'm feeling FRISKY now that my Tabby Mountain quilt is completely quilted and off my frame at last!  WOO HOO!!

You know my instinct is to point out EVERY LITTLE IMPERFECTION now, with high-resolution photos zooming in to reveal every errant stitch, but I'm resisting those wicked impulses for today.  We all know it's not perfect, but it looks pretty cool from a distance, doesn't it?   
Far From Perfect, But the Best I Can Do Today
After looking at the quilt section-by-section during the quilting process, it's exciting to unroll it from the frame and see the impact of the whole quilt for the first time.  Yes, I have a few little pleats on the back side, primarily in places where I had done SID (stitch in the ditch) up front and then came back to quilt and travel along those stitched seam lines again weeks later.  There is room for improvement for sure.  I'm curious to see how much the crinkling/shrinking that happens with the first wash will camouflage those pleats.  My fabrics are all prewashed, but I am a heavy-handed starch user throughout construction of my quilt tops.  My finished quilts always undergo a significant stiff-to-snuggly transformation in that first wash.  This is my second time using Hobbs Tuscany Wool batting, which has a shrinkage rate of 3-5%, but my quilting was much denser all over when I used this batting in Lars's Drunken Dragons quilt.  This time, I deliberately left more open spaces for the wool batting to "puff up" between heavily quilted areas, to experiment with that dimensional texture.  I'm eager to see how it looks after washing, especially in some of the triangle patches where I tried to accentuate kitty cats by quilting behind them almost like they were applique:

Pebbling Around This Kitty
That's one of my favorite fabrics in this quilt, and one of my favorite ways that I quilted it with a melon colored thread that almost-but-not-quite blends with the background.

"Balls of String" Around This Kitty
I tried to vary the quilting designs in different triangles to make it interesting.  Also because I'm experimenting and learning, though.  What happens if I do it THIS way?  How will I look if I do it THAT way?  As you can see in the triangle above, a lighter thread color really does look much better over the large scale multicolored print, even where it crosses over much darker fabric in the print.  That really surprised me.  I had purchased a variety of hot pink, royal blue, and turquoise quilting threads for this project, thinking those would be the best colors for quilting these vivid Tula Pink prints, but pastel shades ended up looking much better on most of them.  The pale aqua thread you see in the photo above and in the photo below is actually Isacord polyester machine embroidery thread.  I literally have about a thousand cones of Isacord embroidery thread, every shade they offered at the time I purchased it, and Isacord behaves very much like Fil-Tec's Glide trilobal polyester quilting thread that I purchased from my APQS dealer.  Considering how much thread goes into a quilt, the larger cones of longarm quilting thread are definitely the way to go -- I wouldn't go out and deliberately buy machine embroidery thread to use in my longarm machine.  It's just nice to know that, in a pinch, I can make my embroidery thread stash do double-duty for machine quilting if I don't have the right shade of quilting thread on hand.

Pebbling Around Mousie Hiding In Leaves
Yes, my pebbling is sloppy and we can really see that when my thread contrasts with the fabric like this.  I don't care.  With this one, I was just fascinated that while navy quilting thread looked horrendous on top of pale aqua fabric, the reverse is not true -- the pale aqua quilting thread looks kind of cool on top of the dark navy fabric.  Like soap bubbles!

So, today's agenda will include trimming away the excess batting and backing from Tabby Mountain and reviewing the machine binding tutorials I've bookmarked and wanted to try.  That's right -- I want to sew the binding on this quilt completely by machine rather than spending ten hours or so hand stitching it to the back of the quilt.  But just because I want to sew my binding more efficiently does not mean I'm lowering my binding standards.  These are the tutorials that have been recommended to me by other quilters for beautifully finished machine stitched quilt binding:

I'm primarily interested in those top two links, the Bernina tutorial that does NOT require foot #71 (I own pretty much every other Bernina presser foot EXCEPT that one), and Sharon Schamber's method of glue basting the binding so it can't shift away from the seamline when you're sewing "blind" from the other side of the quilt.

There also may be some shopping for me today, because I just went looking through all of my blog posts about the Tabby Mountain quilt to try to remember what fabric I was planning to use for the binding, and it appears that I did not plan any binding at all.  I'll "shop my stash" first in case I have something fabulous lurking up there in the shadows, but I'm not going to settle on something that is "good enough."  Way, WAY too much time has gone into this quilt for settling on mediocre binding.  Also I survived the Russian invasion with very few casualties (just a bit of wounded pride), so I deserve a couple of victory laps around my LQS (Local Quilt Shop), don't you think?  ;-)  

But first, I'm linking up with:

Sunday, May 13, 2018

UFF DA: In Which Rebecca Invades Russia During Winter and Learns Many Ways NOT to Make a Lightbulb: A Longarm Quilting Lament

Uff da, ugh, and blech.  That's my opening statement, summing up my current levels of optimism and enthusiasm.  You may read on at your own peril, having been forewarned that I am currently In a Funk.  But if you DO read to the end, I'll reward you by sharing my Top Secret Weapon with you!

So no, I'm not quilting any feathers, marked OR freehand, because my trial feather quilting went very badly.  Apparently even following along marked feathers with a longarm quilting machine is a talent that eludes me.  I'm in a "what-was-I-thinking-buying-this-machine" funk these past few days.  It's VERY DISCOURAGING to have worked so hard to match up all of my triangle points and piece everything so precisely, only to feel like my quilting looks like ugly scribbles all over everything.  Here is the view from under the longarm frame, looking up at the bottom of this quilt that has been in progress for far too long.  The lights on my quilting frame are shining down through the needle holes

Dogs'-Eye View, From Under the Frame
So I KNOW this is only my second quilt with the longarm machine, and I KNOW that it takes lots of time and practice to learn a new skill blah blah...  Whatever.  Wanna learn from my mistakes?  Here you go:

Lesson One: Changing thread colors to match all of my quilt fabrics is ridiculous.  Like, REALLY ridiculous.  It is taking FOREVER, not like switching thread colors when you're hand quilting and you're knotting off individual 18" strands of thread anyway.  Each new thread color requires changing the bobbin, either to a different color prewound or winding my own new bobbin.  Then I have to check the tension.  And I'm having to constantly advance the quilt back and forth, back and forth, top to bottom, as I go through and quilt all the triangles that get ivory thread, then all the triangles that get gold thread, then all the ones that get pink thread...  A truly obnoxious amount of additional time and effort, not worth it AT ALL on this quilt.  This is why professional longarm quilters typically have an upcharge for multiple thread colors on the same quilt.

Lesson Two:  It is better to choose a lighter thread color to go with a multicolor print than it is to choose a darker thread color.  Dark thread against lighter areas of the print look like ugly, distracting scribbles:

Ugly Scribble Quilting.  Yuck!  Yuck!
See what I mean?  I thought that variegated thread would look great on that fabric, because it was all the same colors as the fabric -- but where the dark navy portions of the thread stitched against the pale chartreuse and mint green, it just looks distracting and awful.  

Lighter Thread Color: MUCH Better!
On this block where I did the boring-but-manageable stippling, I chose an off-white thread color that matched the LIGHTEST color in the print fabric.  The places where the off-white thread crossed coral or hot pink look MUCH better than the places where dark threads crossed light fabrics.  

Whenever I can work in my rulers for straight lines, it's looking pretty good because even if I'm not exactly on the printed stripe 100% of the time, at least my straight lines look pretty straight when they're sewn against a straight edge:

Totally Boring, Quilting Along Stripes
So then I tried to come up with more things I could do with my acrylic rulers and templates.

Clam Shells With Gadget Girls Ruler: Meh.
I need to figure out how to make some kind of reference marks when I use this clam shells template.  Also, see how the tops of my shells are kind of flattened out rather than rounded?  I think that's because the open toe of this presser foot is riding along the curve right there.  Lesson Three: Next time I'm going to try switching to the other ruler foot for my machine that has a circle going all the way around the needle, to see whether that allows me to follow curves more accurately.  For SID (Stitch In the Ditch) quilting, I preferred the greater visibility with this open toe foot.  

Marking Lines With Stencil, Then Quilting With Ruler
Then I dug out one of my hand quilting stencils (above) and a blue washout marking pen and marked diagonal grids.  I used my little 6" ruler to quilt straight lines more or less along the drawn lines, then brushed water onto the markings to make them disappear.  My husband thinks this looks good, but I am reminded of one of those quilted mattress pads from Bed Bath & Beyond.

Quilting Along Marked Lines With My Ruler
I suppose that all this straight line quilting is paying off, because I'm getting a lot better at eyeballing that 1/4" distance between the outer edge of the presser foot, where the edge of my ruler lies, and where my needle is actually stitching.  

Washing the Marks Away After Quilting
I'm trying to mix up the different quilting patterns and repeat designs all over the quilt, and I'm trying not to quilt too densely in any one triangle or diamond. 

Lesson Four: I think I am quilting this quilt backwards.  It feels like I'm driving down the Interstate in reverse.  I'm struggling to come up with different free motion or ruler designs that don't compete with the print fabrics, yet you can't really see the quilting designs on the prints anyway.  I should have done those straight radiating lines on the print fabrics, and used the solid color triangles to showcase all of these different free motion quilting designs.

Lesson Five: If you are a beginner, do not make the exact same quilt that a zillion other quilters are making.  A major buzzkill of making a commercial quilt pattern with the same fabrics used by the designer is that social media is FULL of pictures of other people's quilts that look just like mine, except that their quilts are enhanced by GORGEOUS professional longarm quilting.  I know, I know -- "Comparison is the thief of joy," but I just had to show you the beautiful Tabby Mountain quilt that Kim Stotsenberg posted on Facebook yesterday:

This Is What an Experienced Longarm Quilter Can Do With the Tabby Mountain Quilt
See what I mean?  I am SO NOT WORTHY!  I have seen lots and lots of magnificent longarm quilting on the Internet that is way, way beyond anything I could dream of attempting, but somehow seeing a professional quilter's version of the exact same quilt I'm making, same fabrics and everything, really just sucked the wind out of my sails.

So I went to Kim's web site, Sew-n-Sew Quilting, and learned that Kim has been quilting and teaching quilting for nearly 30 years (I made my first quilt in 2002), she has been longarm quilting professionally for nearly 20 years (I have had my longarm machine for barely a year and this is a hobby for me, just a few hours a week here and there), and she has made so many quilts that she can't count them all.  This is only my second quilt on my longarm machine, for Pete's sake, so I have no business comparing my quilting to hers!

Yet there's that still, small voice of doubt in my mind, doing wicked math problems and telling me that I would be better off hiring someone like Kim to quilt all of my quilt tops for me, considering I only finish maybe one quilt per year anyway and if we divide the cost of the longarm machine by the number of quilts I'm quilting it ends up being much MORE expensive to ruin my quilts with my inexperienced quilt scribbling than it would be to hire a really good quilter like Kim to quilt them beautifully for me...

"Marshal Ney at Retreat in Russia" by Adolphe Yvon, 1856
Now do you understand why I'm likening my longarm machine purchase to Napoleon's ill-fated 1812 decision to invade Russia during winter?  Napoleon dreamed of glorious victory, like I dreamed of the glorious quilting I was going to do, but his Grande Armée was annihilated by freezing temperatures, starvation, and disease as the Russians retreated farther and farther inland, slashing and burning villages as they deserted them so the French invaders could find neither sustenance nor spoil there.  Am I the Napoleon of Quilting???

Well, be that as it may, my troops and I are already in Russia so we're just going to have to make the best of things.  Maybe I'm just in a grand funk and need to get over myself already and just hunker down.  Wasn't it Thomas Edison who said that he learned hundreds of ways NOT to make a lightbulb before he finally figured out how to make a lightbulb that actually worked?  So, back to my lessons learned:

Quilting Inspired By Kim's Tabby Mountain Quilt
Lesson Six: Use the Internet as a tool for learning and inspiration, not as a device to destroy all self esteem!  I noticed that, on her Tabby Mountain quilt, Kim quilted straight lines in this one particular fabric that accentuated the diamonds in the print.  It's simple, but effective.  I shamelessly copied this idea, because at this point I realized that marking lines takes up a lot of time, yet I am not so bad at quilting straight lines with my ruler.  Most of what Kim's doing on her quilt is beyond my capabilities, but this one little idea I can do.  And I had to show you her beautiful quilt and give her credit for that idea, and tell you all that Kim Stotsenberg teaches and quilts for hire up in Washington state, and if you can reach her through her web site here if you want to team up with her for your next quilting project.  

Lesson Seven: This is my top secret weapon in the sewing room, you guys, and I'm sharing it with all of you out there who loved me enough to keep reading through my drivel and self-pity:

See Where I Careened Off the Red Fabric, Onto the Dark Blue?
Being a new longarm quilting machine driver reminds me of being a new teenaged driver, beyind the wheel of a very big station wagon that may or may not have knocked over a neighbor's garbage can or two on my way out of the neighborhood.  Sometimes I have trouble staying in my quilting lane, if you get my drift.  See how obvious that is in the photo above, where I strayed off the red and pink polka dot fabric and onto the navy blue fabric?

Oh, Yeah?  WHAT Garbage Can?!!!
Now you see it, and now you DON'T!  I bought a set of these Sakura Pigma Micron 05 permanent ink pens several years ago, and they are absolute life savers.

My Secret Weapon: Sakura Pigma Micron 05 Mistake Erasers
What's special about these particular pens is that they are PERMANENT, they have very fine points so I can carefully color individual thread stitches to make them "go away," they come in all of the colors I need, and they are made of ACID-FREE, ARCHIVAL INK so they are not going to eat away at my thread or fabric over time like Sharpie markers might do.  That makes these pens ideal for handwritten quilt labels and signature blocks, as well as for disguising errant machine quilting stitches as I've done here.  On just this one Tabby Road quilt, I have used the Red, Black, Pink, Blue, and Green Pigma markers to camouflage mistakes that would have been pretty glaring if left alone.  (I just couldn't bear to show you the REALLY bad oopses that I fixed!)  Now, if this was a show quilt, obviously it would be better to pick out the offending stitches.  But I'm a beginner, I am making LOTS of mistakes, and I can't just rip out EVERTHING!  

I also use these Pigma pens in machine embroidery, for those times when I get little dots of white bobbin thread showing on top of the embroidery, or if the outline stitching is slightly misaligned or something like that.  Yet, for all the times these Pigma pens have saved my projects, I am still using that first pack of markers that I bought at least seven years ago.  And I know I've had them that long because I remember using them to fix oopses on my first free-motion quilt that I did on my domestic Bernina machine, the Very Hungry Caterpillar quilt I made for my son Anders' second grade teacher.  (Anders is finishing up his freshman year of high school now).  So I've been using these markers for seven years, and none of them has dried up yet.  I would say they are pretty long lasting (unlike the purple and blue disappearing markers that seem to die within minutes of opening them)!

So...  Do YOU have any Top Secret Weapons in your sewing room that you'd like to share with me?  Any tips or tricks I should know to shorten my Longarm Learning Curve?  If so, please share in the comments!  It's midnight now, and I'm singing a duet in church tomorrow so I need to go to bed RIGHT NOW.  But I'm planning to spend most of my Mother's Day in my studio, finishing up this quilt.  My husband reminded me that this quilt, like all of my quilts, is going to look SO much better, and my wobbles and oopses will be SO much harder to spot, once the quilt is bound and washed and crinkles up a bit.  Momma needs a win...

Happy Mothers' Day to all of you mothers and grandmothers out there!