Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Mission Impossible: Marked and Loaded, With 11 Days Left to Quilt, Label and Bind

Mission Impossible is an appropriate name for this quilt on SO many levels.  It's a high school graduation quilt for my oldest son Lars and it's "due" to the church office in ELEVEN days (on May 26th).  I decided yesterday that I am totally okay with missing that deadline if it comes to that.  The Quillow Service at church isn't until June 9th, two weeks after that deadline, and that's the date that's more important to me.  So I'm adjusting that May 26th "deadline" to an Aspirational Goal, like how we "shoot for the stars, because even if we miss, we'll land on the moon."  

I wanted to document what I've done so far, but I need to keep this SHORT and SWEET so I can get back to this quilt...

So, Mission Impossible is FINALLY on my quilting frame today:

Mission Impossible is On My Frame!
It's centered, smoothed, and positioned but not basted or attached in any way yet.  This loading method is called "fully floating" the quilt top because I'm not using the quilt top roller at all; that's why I've wrapped painter's tape around it, to keep its canvas leader edge from flapping around and annoying me as I'm working.  I know; you're not impressed, right?  I shared my quilting design for this top nine days ago, thinking I was ready to load the quilt and get started. 

I dealt with the dilemma of the backing fabric print being off grain by disregarding the fabric grain and cutting the fabric on the pattern, which was printed at a ninety degree angle to the selvages.  It's just that the grain of the fabric wasn't perfectly straight when it was printed.  And I'm happy with that choice, because crooked lines of text across the back of my quilt would have really bothered me, and the backing fabric rolled up nice and straight and smooth this way, which is really all that matters.

Backing Loaded
In Lisa Calle's Meet and Greet the Longarm class at Paducah Quilt Week, she told us that she rolls her backing all the way up on her pickup roller after pinning it on and then rolls it back onto the quilt backing roller before loading the batting and the quilt top.  That's how I did it this time, and I love how that extra step ensured that my backing fabric was rolled onto the backing roller perfectly smooth with even tension all the way versus me just rolling, smoothing, and twisting it onto the backing roller by hand.  In the photo above, I'm in the process of rolling the backing back onto the backing roller and I stopped to take my photo when I got to the backing seam, perfectly straight along the roller bar.  If you click on that photo to make it bigger, you can admire (or roll your eyes) at how carefully I matched the pattern at the seam line so the stripes of text flow across the backing without a "hiccup" at the seam."  

Why am I loading this 72" x 96" XL Twin (college dorm bed size) quilt sideways on my frame instead of loading and quilting it right side up?

  1. Because I can.  That's one of the reasons a 12' frame is so useful, and not just for King quilts.  By pinning the longest sides of my quilt to the frame rather than the shortest sides, I can minimize how many times I have to stop, advance the quilt, smooth everything out, and baste the edges before I can get back to quilting.
  2. So my backing seam runs parallel to the roller.  If I'd pinned the top (short end) of the backing to my rollers, that backing seam would have been winding up on itself around the roller, creating a lump and not rolling as tight as the rest of the backing.
  3. Loading the quilt sideways is going to minimize how much of my quilt top and batting will be hanging down onto the floor while I'm quilting.  I don't like ANY of it hanging onto the floor, but I don't know of any other solution for the batting.  If I did a "partial float" loading method, my quilt top would be pinned and rolled up onto that quilt top roller (the one I've got the blue tape on), but in my EXTREMELY LIMITED longarm quilting experience thus far I've been more successful when I've fully floated the tops, not attaching them to that bar at all.  I'm sticking with what I'm comfortable with right not, so the quilt top needs to hang down at the front of the frame.  I've created a barricade in my hallway to keep my dogs out temporarily, and that will minimize how much dog fur gets on the quilt (and stuck to the batting inside the quilt).
  4. However, I would NOT be able to load the quilt this way if I was quilting it with a directional paper pantograph design that I wanted to appear right side up on the quilt.  Like if it was a line of little ducks, and I wanted those ducks to be right side up on the quilt.  

After loading the backing fabric, the next step was to position my batting on top of the backing fabric and baste it in place along the top edge.  That basting line was sewn with my channel locks engaged to ensure that it's a perfectly straight line.

Hobbs 80/20 Cotton/Poly Quilt Batting Basted to the Backing Along Top Edge

I'm using Hobbs 80/20 Cotton/Poly Quilt batting in Black because my quilt top fabrics are so dark.  I've used this black batting twice before, for my Amish Baby 54-40 Or Fight quilt and again for my Math Is Beautiful quilt, and I really like it.  In the same way that a cream-colored natural cotton batting (rather than a bleached white batting) behind a mostly white quilt top can make the whites appear dingy, a white or ivory batting behind a black or very dark quilt top can make the dark fabrics look a little faded right off the bat (pun intended)!  Moreover, longarm machines leave larger holes than hand needles or the machine quilting needles that work successfully on a domestic sewing machine, and those needle holes would be much more obvious if white batting was showing through at the needle holes rather than black.  Finally, although I don't expect to have bearding issues with a quality 80/20 Hobbs batting, any batting fibers that do migrate through to the front or back of the quilt over time are going to be much less obvious if they are black fibers on a deep eggplant purple fabric rather than white fibers.  I purchased 2 1/4 yards of 108" wide batting and oversized my backing fabric as well, to give me plenty of room on each side of my quilting frame to throw a scrap of fabric down and check my tension throughout the quilting process.    Normally you wouldn't need that much excess batting and backing at the sides, but I'm a newbie at this AND I suspect that I may have an issue with my upper thread tension assembly not working correctly, so I'll be doing lots of double checking throughout this quilt.  (Once Mission Impossible is finished, I'll call the awesome folks at APQS support and figure out what's going on with my upper tension).

Okay, so the backing and batting were on the frame; now I just had to toss the quilt top on and fire up the machine, right?  Wrong.  Here's the quilting design that I came up with -- and fell in love with, and have my heart set on quilting:

My Grand Quilting Plan, Sketched Out on My iPad
I knew I had to mark some of those quilting lines prior to loading, but I ended up spending something like 8 or 9 hours over several days marking ALL of the quilting lines.  Christa Smith of Cottonberry Quilts, a wonderful professional longarm quilter whom I've met through the Charlotte Quilters Guild, suggested a  brilliant tweak to my original design, adding a quarter inch echo beyond the edges of the flying geese arcs.  Not only will that help to emphasize my geese circles, but it will also give me a path to travel from one straight line to the next where my purple quilting thread stays on my purple background fabric rather than having to travel right in the ditch, on top of or precariously close to the yellow and green triangles.  So the first thing I did was to mark those arc echoes with the custom 1/4" acrylic template that my husband cut for me:

My Sweetie Made Me a Custom Longarm Ruler!
How awesome is THAT?!  I shifted my acrylic template slightly off of the patchwork beneath to ensure you could see it in the photo, but it's an exact match on those inner and outer curves.  I would not be able to use any of the commercially available longarm rulers for this because my design is not based on symmetrical arcs that come from perfect circles.  And I definitely have not developed the skill of just freehand echoing a curve on the longarm yet, so I would not have even attempted this without a template.  

How to Make a DIY Custom Acrylic Quilting Ruler for Less than $20

Since I designed the quilt in EQ8 software, I used my software to print the entire quilt block at actual size onto cardstock.  Then I cut out the flying geese arc portion of the block right on the seamlines, with no seam allowances.  I used double-stick Scotch tape to secure my cardstock template to a quarter inch thick sheet of acrylic plexiglass (you can get them on Amazon here if you can't find a small enough piece at your local home improvement store), and my husband then cut it out with a jigsaw using a special acrylic blade.  A blade designed for cutting plastic has smaller teeth spaced closer together than a regular blade, and it's crucial for getting a smooth edge.  

My Husband Bernie, Cutting Out My Acrylic Templates With His Jigsaw

I cannot tell you how excited I am that this worked.  Seriously!!  That sheet of 1/4" thick acrylic that we ordered from Amazon cost something like $12 with free Prime shipping, and from that one piece we were able to cut two templates with seam allowances that I used to rotary cut the purple background pieces for my quilt blocks, plus Bernie was able to cut my quilting template from the leftover scrap.  I mean, where can you get three acrylic quilting rulers for $12?!

My Custom Acrylic Templates for Rotary Cutting

Rotary Cutting These Custom Shapes Was a Huge Time Saver
Of course, the rotary cutting rulers and templates you buy in stores are only 1/8" thick, whereas mine are 1/4" thick.  Bernie didn't want to try cutting acrylic thinner than 1/8" because he was concerned that it would shatter, but I had no trouble cutting these gentle curves with my 45 mm rotary cutter despite the thicker acrylic.  And 1/4" thick is PERFECT for templates and rulers that you're using for machine quilting, because that thickness prevents the acrylic template from sliding under your hopping foot while you're stitching.

Now, I'll still opt for a commercially made quilting ruler when there's one available because those are precision cut with lasers, perfectly smooth, and etched with lines and markings that help you position them accurately on your quilt.  Still, knowing my sweetie can cut custom shapes like this for me opens up a whole new world of possibilities!

Marking Arc Echoes With My Custom Quilting Ruler
So, back to Mission Impossible.  After marking the curved arc echoes on my quilt top with a SewLine mechanical fabric pencil, I used a 5' drapery workroom ruler (similar to this Creative Grids acrylic yard stick) to mark the diamonds with straight lines coming off the block corners.  The diagonal line that goes through each of the flying geese circles is nearly 34" long, which is why it needed to be marked on the quilt prior to loading it.  I continued using the SewLine pencils because I like the clear, thin line they create that doesn't smudge with handling the way regular chalk pencil would do.

Then I used a 24.5" long Creative Grids acrylic ruler to mark my 1/4" echo lines just inside those intersecting diagonal lines, and I'm VERY GLAD I was marking this ahead of time because I messed up and drew the lines on the wrong sides the first time.  It's so much easier to remove chalk lines than it is to rip out quilting stitches!  And that mistake is what convinced me to mark ALL of my lines on the quilt before loading it.  Once the quilt is on the frame and I can only see a 26" swath or so at a time, it would be even easier to accidentally mess up my design if it wasn't premarked.  I bought a cool marking ruler from Judi Madsen at her longarm ruler work class at Paducah Quilt Week, and I am so glad I did because it made it so much faster and easier to get those perfectly spaced 1/2" lines marked inside the diamonds.  It's called the QuickMark Assist Ruler, it's 1/8" thick so it's for marking only (NOT for quilting!), and you can get it on Judi's Green Fairy Quilting web site here:

Marking Half Inch Lines With Judi Madsen's QuickMark Assist Ruler
I switched to my White Clover Marking Pen at this point (the kind that is supposed to disappear when you iron it) because the tip of the mechanical SewLine pencil didn't fit well in the skinny ruler grooves and the point kept snapping off.  Normally, I hate the White Clover Pen because the ink doesn't show up immediately when you draw the line -- there's a delay of a couple seconds before the white line appears.  But that wasn't a problem with this particular ruler since you position it once and then draw a whole bunch of perfectly spaced lines, zip zip zip, before you have to reposition the ruler.  By the time I finish drawing all the lines, most of the ink is visible and I didn't have to wait at all to reposition and keep going.  I almost didn't buy this ruler in class but I'm SO glad I did.  The markings on the ruler are what make it work so well, with registration marks that help you align your drawn lines with block seams and previously drawn lines.  Worth every penny even if I never use it again -- and I KNOW I'm going to use it again and again.  (By the way, I'll be stitching in the ditch at the seam that runs through the center of those diamonds but didn't need to draw a pencil line where I already have a seam to follow.  That's why the spacing looks off at the center in the photo).

Lines Outside the Diamonds Spaced One Inch Apart
After drawing the 1/2" spaced lines inside the diamonds, I switched back to my 24.5" long Creative Grids ruler to mark the perpendicular lines between the diamonds.  Those were MUCH longer lines and I wanted them to line up on either side of the geese circles and diamonds, so I needed every inch of that ruler and definitely could not have marked these lines successfully once the quilt was loaded on the frame.  My original plan was to space these lines the same distance apart as the lines inside the diamonds, but I changed my mind for two reasons.  First, it had taken an eternity to mark all the 1/2" lines and I was nervously wondering how long it would take to QUILT all those lines I'd marked.  And second, I decided that changing the spacing would make the quilt more interesting.  The more closely spaced quilting lines are going to flatten the quilt more inside the diamonds and make that area seem to recede compared to the wider spaced 1" lines outside the diamonds.  Now, if I was Judi Madsen, I would probably fill in every other one of those 1" sections with some kind of fill quilting, but I think I've taken on enough challenges with this quilt so I'm planning to just quilt the lines and leave it at that!

Alright, you guys -- I've just spent 3 hours on this blog post when I only intended to spend 30 minutes.  I hope you appreciated it.  ;-). Just kidding -- I wanted to document what I'd done, how I'd done it, and what tools I used for my own personal reference because my mind is a sieve and there's no way I'd remember those details a year or two from now if I didn't write it all down here on the Internet where I know I can find it again!  But now I've got to get up to the studio and start quilting.  Wish me luck!

Obviously my one and only To-Do for Tuesday is to get Mission Impossible quilted, since I still have to do the label and binding once the quilting is finished.  I'm linking up with:


·      Colour and Inspiration Tuesday at
·       To-Do Tuesday at Stitch ALL the Things:


·      Midweek Makers at
·      WOW WIP on Wednesday at


·      Needle and Thread Thursday at  


PaintedThread said...

What excellent templates. Oh, my, all that marking. It will look marvelous!

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

I love all that marking in advance I think it will really help the quilting move along smoothly and maybe faster? thanks for taking us through this - in some ways the hand quilting frame is like this and in other ways totally different. I will be watching your progress and hope it all goes smoothly -- thanks for the info on how Bernie did the templates I might need that info sometime for my hubby too

Nancy @ Grace and Peace Quilting said...

Awesome DYI rulers by your sweety! I like floating my quilt, too. Great job with all the marking. Interesting details you shared here. Best wishes for the quilting ahead!

Gretchen Weaver said...

I can't wait to see this quilted! This is going to be so awesome!

SJSM said...

I like how your brain works through a problem. It makes it easy for me to follow and I don’t quilt. You should find it even easier to understand if you ever need a refresher on how you made this quilt work. And yes, I have forgotten how to do something years later and needed to walk through the whole thought process again. That takes a long time, sometimes days or a new set of trial and error experimentation. It’s your insurance to keep those brain synapses working correctly. This quilt will be beautiful and well loved.

Susan said...

Looks like a great start! Making the custom ruler is a great idea - just make sure it 1/4" thick for longarm use.

Karen4Q said...

I completely understand your dislike of batting and top pooling on the floor. The quilt shop where I longarm has a hammock strung under the table of the longarm. I loosely roll (on a long stick) the batting then rest it in the hammock once loaded AND it keeps it off the floor and out of the way of curious peoples feet! Use Google images to see Handiquilters handi hammock, though at the shop we keep the hammock closer to the floor, rather than high under the table. It's a net strung between elastic and works like a charm. to muse cutting my own templates.....

Christine Slaughter said...

WOW! There is so much in this post to love. And an abundance of great tips too! What a great idea to load that sideways so the long seam is parallel to the bar. And I totally appreciate that perfect seam.... well done! Love that your hubby was able to make you all of those templates. And you are so right about that being a bargain price for three templates! I hope the quilting is coming along well for you! I'm sure I'll find out shortly! :)

Christine Slaughter said...

WOW! There is so much in this post to love. And an abundance of great tips too! What a great idea to load that sideways so the long seam is parallel to the bar. And I totally appreciate that perfect seam.... well done! Love that your hubby was able to make you all of those templates. And you are so right about that being a bargain price for three templates! I hope the quilting is coming along well for you! I'm sure I'll find out shortly! :)

Preeti said...

Kudos to Bernie for doing that and Congratulations to you GF for landing that guy who makes you quilty templates. It is a win-win. So, I do have a question or two. Will Bernie consider making more of such (or similar) templates? Asking for a friend :-p

Dione Gardner-Stephen said...

Very impressed with the custom templates! Good luck getting your quilt done on time, I hope it goes super smoothly.