Sunday, May 17, 2020

Stencils for Long Arm Quilting, Part Two: Because There is No Such Thing as Being "Ready"

Transferring my DIY Stencil with Pounce Chalk
After a week of avoidance behavior, I finally started quilting again last night.  Ta da!

Hopefully This is the Ugliest Quilting On This Quilt
This is where I started, with that orange polka dot triangle in the top left.  It took all of the will power I could muster to leave those stitches in the quilt and keep going!

I ran across this quote by British actor Hugh Laurie this morning, and it's EXACTLY what I needed to hear right now.  Well, that quote combined with an amazing AQS video interview of Bethanne Nemesh that I saw the day before.  If you are a quilter, or an artist, or a person who aspires to ever be one of those things, it is totally worth your time to watch it.  Seriously; watch this right now -- I'll wait!

So much good stuff in there about being true to yourself and following your own creative path rather than trying too hard to follow fads, trends, and abide by challenges!  But did you catch what she said about the custom long arm quilting we see winning awards at top shows?  She's right -- almost without exception (and I can't even think of any exceptions, can you?) those are quilters who were long arm quilting professionally as a full-time business at some point in their past.  Bethanne says that, when she was quilting for others, she was longarm quilting for forty hours per week, every week for eleven YEARS in order to develop the skills she has now.  Let's do the math on that:

40 hrs/wk x 52 wks/yr x 11 yrs = 22,880 hours of actual quilting (not just "practicing"), is how long it takes to get good at it!

Assuming that we all acquire skills at a similar rate, if I wanted to be even half as good at long arm quilting as Bethanne Nemesh (and even that is a very lofty goal), I should invest over 11,000 hours actually DOING IT.  Hugh Laurie said, "no one is ever ready to do anything," but Bethanne Nemesh takes that a step further by suggesting that the only way you can GET ready to do something is to start doing it now, BEFORE you're ready!  

With that in mind, back to my Spirit Song quilt.  It took me a long time to mark the first section for quilting, several hours.  Straight lines for ruler work are marked in blue water erasable marker.  Then I used Pounce Chalk to transfer a few of my DIY stencils to my quilt, although I was frustrated that my lines weren't clear until I piled random objects beneath my frame to create a tower with a hard surface to press against just beneath my quilt:

IKEA Cart + Empty Plastic Drawer Bins + Appliqué Press Board = Marking Tower
I found it much easier to mark straight lines as well as stencils with a hard surface beneath my quilt.  Yay!  I might get a second IKEA cart like this one, add a hard plastic mat beneath my long arm frame so the cart slides better over the carpeting, and ask my husband to build me something lightweight that fits over the top of the cart for the additional height so it doesn't knock off the cart as easily as the empty storage drawers do.

Stencil Transferred Beautifully with Hard Surface Beneath Quilt!  Pounce Chalk with DIY Stencil
However, this might not be needed for transferring chalk stencils, after all.  The original white Pounce Chalk has the advantage of being a super safe, easy to remove marking method for quilts that you don't want to wash or wet.  The marks go down quickly with a swipe of the pounce pad, and with something hard beneath the quilt surface, those marks came out clean and clear.  But as soon as I started quilting the ruler work adjacent to the stenciled design, the vibrations from the machine started shaking the chalk dust right off the surface of my quilt!  YIKES!

Chalk Lines Start Blurring as I'm Quilting Ruler Lines Nearby
See how the lines are beginning to blur?  I could still see the design as I was beginning to quilt this motif, but almost all of the chalked lines had disappeared before I was halfway done quilting the design!

Machine Vibration Bounces Chalk Right Off the Quilt Top

And yes, I know that the curls I quilted look pretty wretched, stencil or no stencil.  I can only assure you that they would look even worse if I hadn't given myself guide lines to follow!  

These Chalked Lines Come Off Way Too Easily!

Actually, I can see how much the guide lines helped me by looking at this completed motif that I quilted on that peach triangle.  Look at the photo below -- the left side of that motif, where I started, looks MUCH better than the right side of the motif, because I stitched the center diamond thingy first, then the curls to the left of center, and by the time I was quilting the curls on the right side of the center, my guide lines had all but disappeared.  

See the Difference Between the Left and Right Sides of the Peach Motif? 
Hancy, the manufacturer of Pounce Chalk, recommends setting the marked chalk lines with cheap hair spray or with a fine mist of Mary Ellen's Best Press (using a special aerosol spray bottle, NOT the bottle it comes in).  Jaime Wallen uses cheap Dollar Store hair spray with stencils and Pounce Chalk, too -- he lays the stencil over the quilt, swipes the pounce pad over the stencil to transfer the design, and then gives a quick spritz of hair spray BEFORE removing the stencil so the hair spray adheres to the chalk powder only, with no overspray going onto the quilt fabric.  Ugh...  Y'all, I do not WANT to spray hair spray on my quilt, on my stencils, anywhere near my long arm machine...  I would be willing to try the Mary Ellen's Best Press idea if I was using a washable commercially made stencil, but I can't wash my vellum paper DIY stencils to remove buildup of hairspray or sizing and I don't have one of those aerosol mister bottles anyway.  Ergo, these are some of the things I will try next:

  • I purchased a competitor brand of chalk powder, Miracle Chalk, that is advertised as sticking to the quilt surface better without needing anything sprayed onto it.  It's a white powdered chalk that comes with the same kind of fluffy swipe pad delivery system, but whatever doesn't wipe off your quilt with a lint brush or soft rag after quilting is supposed to come out with washing or with steam.  I'll try that and see if I notice any difference.
  • Instead of marking multiple chalk stencils ahead of time, I'll wait to mark each stenciled motif until right before I'm ready to stitch it -- and I may be able to use the ruler base on my quilting machine as the hard surface beneath the quilt if I do it that way, too.  
  • If I'm still having trouble with the chalk bouncing off my quilt too soon, I suppose I could get one of those aerosol misters to use with Mary Ellen's Best Press.  The Lavender scent of that stuff smells much better than Aquanet...  And I'm pretty sure my not-quite-local LQS sells those aerosol misters, and if I schedule an appointment I could even shop there IN PERSON...
  • Absolute worst case scenario, I could probably draw each of these designs onto my quilt freehand with the blue washout marker, but that would take so much more time than the pounce chalk, and I really want to come up with a go-to method of stenciling that will work for more complex designs in the future.

I'm still not sure about my thread choice, by the way.  The matte peach So Fine thread seems a little wimpy, doesn't it?  Should I have stuck with the King Tut 40 weight after all -- or would the sheen of Glide thread have been better?  Here's what the other motif looks like quilted out.  Again, I know this is pretty rough but I'm leaving it in for now.  It's not going to get any better if I don't keep at it, and if I improve enough by the time I get to the bottom of the quilt I can always come back, rip this out, and redo it at the end:

Blech...  Nowhere To Go But UP, right?!  Room for Improvement!
Here's another fun bit to share.  I thought I didn't need to mark those little accent diagonal lines on my actual quilt, I could just add them with my ruler as I went along.  

Can You Even See What I Quilted?
Yeah, no.  It's obvious which way the diagonal lines should go on a complete block, but not on the partial blocks along the edges of the quilt, where I'm starting.  I quilted these lines in the wrong direction last night!!

Yellow Lines Indicate Where Those Quilting Lines SHOULD Have Gone
See what I mean about the wimpy thread, though?  I know I'm quilting mostly on prints right now, but still...  Even on the solid pink fabric, this thread is underwhelming me.  I suppose I could fill in every other one of those piano key rectangles with scribble squiggles or something, but I'm afraid that I can't scribble between the lines.  Also, I'm not going to get a fabulous texture impact from really dense quilting since I'm using a single layer of cotton batting that doesn't have enough loft to really puff up in the less quilted areas.  And yet, the more thread I quilt into this quilt, the more I'll learn from it, right?  We'll see how I feel about it after I rip out those diagonal quilted lines that I put in the wrong direction last night!

Last Peek for This Post
My To-Do for this week is going to be just pressing on with this quilting, slowly but surely...  I'll try to get in at least 30 minutes per day.  Wish me luck!

I'm linking up today's post with the following linky parties:


·       Oh Scrap! at Quilting Is More Fun Than Housework


·       Design Wall Monday at Small Quilts and Doll Quilts  
·       Monday Making at Love Laugh Quilt
·       BOMs Away Katie Mae Quilts  


·       Colour and Inspiration Tuesday at Clever Chameleon
·       To-Do Tuesday at Home Sewn By Us

·       Let’s Do Some Ruler Work at The Quilt Yarn


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

I think your quilting is looking really good! I don't care for the pounce product it gets messy for me and wipes out fast it just doesn't maintain the lines good for hand quilting - that is a good idea for the hard surface under the quilt

The Joyful Quilter said...

Honestly, Rebecca, I don't know WHAT you are complaining about! Granted, you see more texture than thread color when the quilting is done, but I wouldn't consider that a problem. From what I can see, your designs stitched out beautifully!!

Carol R. said...

I like your quilting... I think the only ones who would REALLY notice your little Oopsies' would be you and the 'quilt police' ( and we all know that their opinion doesn't count/matter). I have learned to ignore the little oopsies in my quilting... big ones, that's another story :). I've had the same experience with the pounce pads; I have the blue chalk, too, which is easier to see but then you run the risk of it not all coming out. :( I've had to settle for using a chalk pencil and tracing the stencil lines which does take longer. Hang in there..can't wait to see your progress.

Norma Schlager said...

Well. I think your quilting is magnificent and you are much too hard on yourself. I really enjoyed that video, too. said...

You quilting looks great! As far as the 'wimpy' thread, I think it is a great choice as it allows the fun prints in your quilt to sparkle. I look forward to your progress posts!

Linda P in IL said...

When we quilt, we notice small things that others don't! Your quilting looks really good. I didn't like the chalk power either, but sometimes you just have to use what you have! One time I did a customer quilt that was civil war fabric, it had a border on one side only. I stitched the names of major battles on the diagonal of that border. I used a dissolvable stuff and used my hand writing on the dissolvable and it turned out great. It just disappeared and left my stitching. Not sure if I still have it.. I'll look. Good luck, you're learning fast!

Gail said...

If you "very lightly" mist your fabric with water prior to setting down the stencil and applying the chalk, the vibration of the machine will not make your lines disintegrate. You will get some build up on your hopping foot, but just clean it with a q-tip. Wait until the block is completely dry before trying to brush the chalk away. Cotton thread will absorb some of the chalk, and you may need a very soft tooth brush to clean the quilting lines; Poly thread does not have that issue.

Jenny K. Lyon said...

Miracle Chalk, beware! I'm pretty sure it is the same system as the Frixion pens. I researched this years ago and forgot some of my research, but test first. If I remember correctly, just like Frixion pens, the "disappearing" part of the formula comes back if the quilt gets cold. It can also leave a "ghost" mark after steaming on some fabrics. I called the chemist at Pilot and wrote about what I learned.

SJSM said...

Only God is perfect. The Amish intentionally have a mistake in their quilts to acknowledge their humbleness before God. Strive to improve but allow yourself the pleasure of being human with a few mistakes.

MissPat said...

Keep reminding yourself, one of the reasons you made this quilt is to "practice" your long arm quilting technique. So except for an obvious mistake like your diagonals, I wouldn't take out any of the quilting. You're making this for yourself. It's not a show quilt. No one else is going to notice the things you think are wonky. Also I think you should stick with the wimpy thread because, again, this is for practice. If you use a thread that will be more obvious, then what you see as wonky will also be that more obvious. And finally, as hard as this will be for you, you need to lighten up and enjoy the process of learning. You've got many more hours of quilting practice ahead before you reach the perfection you strive for.

chrisknits said...

Remember, we are our own worst critics. I think you are making beautiful quilting!! Just keep swimming.

Home Sewn By Us said...

Hi Rebecca! Goodness, you are hard on yourself. Please do not take out any of your quilting! Who is ever going to look it as closely as you are right now? Ever?? I like the thread you chose; however, what voice do you want to hear/see when it's finished? The piecing or the quilting? It's your choice but for me, the thread color and weight is perfect to let the pattern and fabrics shine. I have had similar issues with Pounce chalk but had never heard about the spraying technique to keep it in place. I usually just deal with the lighter or missing chalk. I love that you made your own stencil! You rock. Thanks for linking up this week. ~smile~ Roseanne

Emily Galea said...

Hi Rebecca, I am so happy I found your blog. I had exactly the same issues with the pounce as you did. I used the water spray before and the hairspray afterwards. Didn’t make a difference. I have a sit down Q20. I could only do one side of a border on a baby quilt at a time, by the time I reached the end all the markings were gone leaving just the chalk dust. I read on another website that a quilter uses pure Zinc Stearate powder with good results. The markings disappear with a steam iron. The pounce has been around for years. I would think they would have perfected the chalk by now!!!! Having to spray water and hair spray on a quilt to mark a stencil is crazy. Excuse the rant. Anyway thank you for posting your experience. That was the biggest help for me.
I love your quilts!!! They are beautiful, bright and colorful. You and your quilting are inspiring. Emily