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!


Anonymous said...

I hope you look back on this post in 12 months and laugh at yourself. I have a mid arm machine and frame and cried the first few days I used it. That first project got made into a mattress protector and when I look at it now I think it's not as bad as I thought. I think what you're doing looks great!!! I bet even Kim makes the odd mistake too. And with the thread change, what do we do when hand quilting? I use the same thread all the way. Keep up the good work and thank you for blogging!!! It's my one way of keeping up with the latest and so many blogs are falling by the wayside. I don't insta or tweet as I don't want to be tied to my phone.
Cheers from Sandra, somewhere in Australia.

Jenny K. Lyon said...

As to all your lessons, I was nodding to myself, yup, yup, yup. Think of it this way, you are advancing your learning curve rapidly. Really, dwell on that one. I cannot believe you strayed off the dots-you should just throw the whole quilt out:-/ The most very important thing: BUY ART AND FEAR TODAY! It addresses all the things that are going on in your mind and puts them in proper perspective. It is The Most Important Art Book I have ever read. Out-of-print but readily available. Skinny little book too. Ted Bayles.

You get the award for The Most Creative Titles Ever! Love your posts.

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

Ok here goes - I am not a long arm quilter and have only machine quilted a few quilts with straight lines - but - I think you are being way too hard on yourself. Not all quilters quilt like the fantastic photo you showed of the excellent machine quilting by someone with 20 years of experience. And actually even though that work is very neat it is the same as a lot of other quilters out there who spend tons of hours on a quilt filling in every single space on a quilt.
I like how you are doing yours - not filling in every little space and having a bit more of a geometric look to it. You have to give yourself time to learn and you are doing that. It is hard to not compare to others. I do that with hand quilting and some hand quilting that I see is spectacular - but I learned a long time ago that it stressed me out too much to try to have 10 or 11 stitches to the inch and always be counting my stitches and stressing over perfection - I realized that for me "normal" was 7 or 8 stitches to the inch and I didn't have to count because that size of stitch came normally for me - and I just want to have fun!
You need to decide - are you doing this for fun or do you want to be a professional long arm quilter - quilting for others besides yourself - or are you doing this for you - for your enjoyment - and go from there.
Stressing yourself out makes a person loose interest in their hobby and eventually the machine will sit unused as you will not be having fun -- just my opinion - and I love what you are doing with this quilt!!

Karen in Breezy Point said...

I think you are being way to hard on yourself! What you have been doing looks great, and unless you are planning to enter your quilt in a national show, it doesn't need over the top quilting--let the color and fabrics be the stars! I've had my machine for a long time and only quilt for myself, so I will never have the skills a professional quilter has and that's okay. I like the fact that I have created my quilt from start to finish including the quilting.

Momcat said...

I too, have used those same pens on my embroidery and they have been wonderful, I love them. Now, the longarm are doing really good!! It's ONLY your second quilt, we tend to want to push ourselves to do what we see others doing, but it takes time and practice. I rented time on a longarm machine a few years back, nothing big, just a small watermelon quilt. The main stitch that I did was trailing and loops. It wasn't perfect but it looks fine, and the people who don't quilt, think it is wonderful. I carry it around in our RV van for camping use. Step back and give yourself another pep talk that you are doing an excellent job for a second quilt and with each new one you will get better. That is the way we learn, so don't be too hard on yourself at this point, one step at a time. And the quilt looks wonderful. And Love your blog!! Now leave that funk outside and have fun with the quilting!!

Sandra Healy Designs said...

It seems to me that when we quilters spend a lot of time looking very closely at one particular project then every imperfection in that project becomes magnified. Your quilting really looked fine to me. I would suggest you gather up your quilt and put it in the time-out place. Work on something else and forget all about it. When you, and your quilt, have both had time to calm down, I guarantee you will bring it back from the time-out place and you will wonder why you were so fed up in the first place. You're doing great.

chrisknits said...

Breathe in and then out. Close your eyes and go to your happy place. Let go of perfection and embrace progress. It will come with practice and more practice!

Paula said...

It's time to take a step back and relax. For only your second quilt, it looks really good to me! I have perfectionist tendencies and find I often don't like my projects while I'm working on them. Once they are complete, I step back and look at the finished product and find I really am okay with the results.

If you can't reach that point with this quilt, at least you can appreciate all of the lessons you learned and taught us. I wouldn't have thought about quilting fancy motifs on the solid fabrics and straight lines on the prints, but now it makes perfect sense.

Good luck, and I hope you learn to love this great quilt.

the momma said...

The friend that you are making this for will LOVE it, regardless of any perceived imperfections.
I actually think you didn't get this backwards at all; the various designs are giving you more trouble than the ruler work, so they are nicely hidden among the prints :-) I think your feathers look perfectly fine (and I am NOT a blowing smoke kinda gal!) My friend recently bought a long arm and she told me that it helps to hit those curves when you go a smidge faster, rather than creeping along super slow, so maybe speed up a little?? (plus -your markings will be gone, so it won't be so obvious when you didn't quite hit them...)
I can see how changing threads would get old reeeealy fast!! YUCK
I don't have a LA, but I *have* been working to really improve my quilting game, and several months ago, I was actually super proud of a section of quilting, and posted it on IG. A picture of Judi Madsen's ended up right above mine in my feed. I felt SO COMPLETELY DEFLATED and almost removed my picture. I felt so foolish for thinking my work was good (but it WAS - for ME!!) I whined to a friend and she said, "Way to compare yourself with a master" touche'
I'm quite positive, when you don't have your face quite so close to it, you will see that your quilting isn't nearly so bad as you think it is!! and your man is right - you know how fantastic it will look after a wash and tumble in the dryer
You've got this!!

Rebecca Grace said...

Oh, I laugh at myself EVERY DAY... :-).

LA Paylor said...

so frustrating! I feel the same way about my quilting at times. I don't have a long arm but the same issues apply. I like variegated thread but the light looks wrong on the dark areas, etc.
You are close to it now, so you see each and every blip. I am not close to it and it looks good to me. You'll improve with each session, and get more comfortable and relax into it. We are not used to not being new to something, and the learning curve. No time for a learning curve!!! But... you've described the lot of every machine quilter, domestic machine or long arm. It's nice to know I'm not alone in that.
The one I'm doing now was pieced with care to match points, and the quilting makes it look haphazard.
Again, your work looks good to me... want something to practice on, wait while I run get about 25 tops for you to use! lol
LeeAnna said...

Thanks for sharing the Linky party for ruler work! Your straight lines are perfect! I like the micron pen tip. I've used them in machine embroidery instances; but, haven't used them when I've "gone out of bounds!" Brilliant!

Karin said...

Thanks for linking up Rebecca...your post definitely resonated with me and made me smile in parts. I think we all have been there. I often compare myself and sometimes also fall into this weird thing where I think I will never be as good as others and what's the point etc. I only started ruler quilting about 2 years ago and I did struggle a bit at first but with stubborn persistence I have become better. Your straight line designs look great! Also liked the secret weapon...might have to invest in some of those.