Saturday, November 14, 2020

Baby Steps Into Computerized Custom Quilting: Using the Cropping and Distort Features of IQ to Fit a Perfect Design to an Imperfect Block

I played with my new IntelliQuilter (IQ) computer robotics yesterday, and I am GIDDY!!!!!!!!  Is that enough exclamation points for you?  If not, here are a few more!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!😁

Okay, here's what I'm so excited about.  Check out the feather design I've stitched below, and how the four corners of the quilting design are about the same distance away from the four corners of the "block" printer on the fabric:

Distort Feature in IQ Made My Feather Fit My Wonky Block!

I've loaded about a yard of this vintage cheater cloth on my long arm for practicing custom quilting with IQ, and I was experimenting with placing individual designs in each block the way I might want to do with this quilt if it was pieced rather than a printed design on fabric.  You would think that a preprinted fabric panel would have perfectly square "blocks" to work with, but as I started working with the panel I realized that these printed "blocks" are just as wonky and imperfect as blocks pieced by human beings would be.  

Compare to This Block Without Distort.  See how the Top and Bottom Points are Too Far Away?

The photo above shows the first time I stitched this design, before I discovered the Distort tool.  The digital feather design I'm using is designed to fit inside a perfect square, so when I center it in my imperfect block, it really draws attention to what would be imperfect piecing if this was a real quilt top.  That makes the quilter look bad.  Even if I was using a stencil to mark this design onto a quilt for either hand quilting or freehand machine quilting, I would still have this problem because I'd have a perfectly symmetrical, perfectly square stencil motif that I'd be trying to position on an imperfect block as best as I could.  The Distort tool in IQ lets me drag those corners out of square just enough to align with where the corners actually are on the quilt block in front of me, and when the quilting design is just as crooked as the block, the whole thing looks pretty darned perfect.  Scroll back up to the first picture to compare.

Using Distort Feature to Fit Design to a Crooked Block

I know this might seem complicated when I explain it in writing, but I was able to sew out several of these blocks in the amount of time it would have taken me to just MARK this design on one block for hand guided quilting.  And it comes out so smooth and even and perfect with no wobbles or swear words!  

Red Laser Light Indicates Needle Position

I moved the laser light that used to be attached to the back of my machine (for following paper pantograph patterns) to the front of the machine, and positioned the light so it shines right down into the center of my hopping foot to mark my needle position.  The first step for every custom quilt block is to map out the outline of the block for IQ so it knows the exact size and shape of the space I'm wanting to fill with a design. That's four quick clicks as I move the red dot of light to each of the four corners of my block.   (In the photo prior to the one above, the purple square represents the outline of the block I traced on my quilt).  Then I insert my design into the block and can resize, rotate, or distort as needed until it looks good to me before sewing it out -- all without having to make ANY markings on the quilt top.  

The second exciting block tool I learned to use today is the Cropping feature.  This lets me position a whole block design onto a half block, like you might have along the sides of a diagonally set quilt, and just crop (chop!) off the part of the design that extends beyond the edge of the quilt.  I mapped out my triangular half block for IQ using Mark On Quilt to define the block boundaries, positioned the same whole block design I'd been using before, and used the Rotate, Resize and Distort tools just like I'd done in the full block.  Then I used the Cropping feature to chop off all of the stitching that would have been hanging off the edge of the quilt, like so:

Resized, Distorted, and Cropped (Chopped!) to Fit Half Block

And here's how that one stitched out:

Same Digital Design, Cropped to Fit Half Block

Eight years ago, when I was quilting Lars's Drunken Dragons quilt with my Bernina Artista 200/730E embroidery module, I encountered this same situation where I had a commercially digitized quilt block design file for the circles, and I needed half block designs at the top and bottom edges of my quilt.  Let's take a quick detour down Memory Lane...  

Adding Awkward FMQ Around the Too-Small, Commercially Digitized Half Block

Whole Circle Block, FMQ Completed

Finished Quilt.  Half Blocks at Top and Bottom.

I remember spending hours trying to edit that design in my software to make a half-bock version and was ultimately unsuccessful (but SHERRI at Lee's Creative Sewing & Vacuum came to my rescue and created an altered file for me that worked).  So it was like magic yesterday to just go CLICK-CLICK-CLICK in about a minute and have IQ chop off half the block for me instantly, leaving me with a beautiful half block that stitched out perfectly where I needed it to go.

The other thing I'm remembering as I look at that quilt from 8 years ago is how frustrated I was that "quilting in the hoop" with my embroidery module restricted the size of my quilt motifs to what would fit in the embroidery hoop for my Artista machine.  One of the primary attractions of my current Bernina 750QE machine when I bought it was the additional throat space that would accommodate larger embroidery hoops for this technique.  So there's a continuum for me between those early quilts where I wanted to quilt a beautiful, intricate design beyond what I could free motion using "in the hoop" and what I'm doing today, which is a lot like "quilting in the hoop" but without any hoop size restrictions at all!  

Back to the practice quilt on my long arm frame today:

Cheater Cloth Practice Quilt, Awaiting Further Experimentation

Now, if this was a real quilt instead of practice, I would have done SID (stitch in the ditch) around the blocks and sashing before I started in with the block designs.  And I probably would not be picking an ornate feather design to stitch on top of a busy pieced block, either.  I foresee that there will be more empty alternate blocks in my quilt tops just so I can quilt out pretty designs like this one where they can be seen!  

So, what's next?  I think I might pop my ruler base on the machine today and switch back to my ruler foot so I can do some fake SID along my fake printed sashing.  Then I can try telling IQ to quilt a background fill design all around -- but not through -- the star blocks in the next row. Probably ought to review the videos on using those features before attempting it in real life, but really, the Help feature in IQ makes it pretty easy to just fumble around and find what you're looking for.  The most valuable thing I gained from the training videos is that I know what the software is capable of doing and I know the tools are in there to be found.

Also, it is so gratifying to finally quilt a pretty feather design that does not look like a macabre necklace made of ogre toes.  And I didn't have to spend 900 hours practicing them before I got them to look nice.  I just had to delegate the execution part of it to my new studio assistant, R2D2!  She is DEFINITELY the droid I've been looking for...

My Quilting Droid, Awaiting Instructions

Happy quilting, everyone!  I'm linking today's post with the following linky parties:


UFO Busting at Tish in Wonderland


Frédérique at Quilting Patchwork Appliqué

Oh Scrap! at Quilting Is More Fun Than Housework

Slow Stitching Sunday at Kathy's Quilts


Design Wall Monday at Small Quilts and Doll Quilts  

Monday Making at Love Laugh Quilt


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

would love to watch you work - you are so detailed!! ( have always found cheater panels to not be straight)

MissPat said...

I'm glad you're having lots of fun. Look forward to seeing what lovely designs you execute.
Pat said...

That distort tool/function is amazing! You are doing well orienting yourself to the IQ program.

Sewgirl said...

Wow! Thanks for taking the time to share this. Looks like you are taking full advantage of the powers of technology! Your practice piece is great!!

Frédérique - Quilting Patchwork Appliqué said...

Wow, your new toy is amazing, I guess you will not leave before trying all the possibilities ;)) R2D2 is always a very good companion ;)
Have fun!

Vicki in MN said...

You sure had a big learning week, I think the block looks fantastic! Looks like you might be a natural at the computerized thing!! It's okay use as many !!!! as you want, hehe.

SJSM said...

And you are off and running! Congrats on such an easy start to your new quilting life. Of course, it was easy since you did your homework ahead of times and needed only to recall and familiarize yourself to the actual machine. You have great preparation skills to be successful.

Sylvia@Treadlestitches said...

It is absolutely AMAZING what modern quilting machines, software, etc. can do. Paired with the right operator, of course!

Janis said...

Wow, what fun! I'm glad for you to have the technology to do such accurate and beautiful quilting. Glad you are having fun as you practice and learn.

Alycia~Quiltygirl said...

I'm thinking.... we have created a monster... ha ha - a digital monster! Look at you go - and oh the fun you are having - I am so happy for you!! ( my r2d2 is my shop vac... I think I like yours better haha) This looks so beautiful - and wow!! you are amazing!

The Joyful Quilter said...

OK, Rebecca. I can now TOTALLY understand why this system was SEW perfect for you!! I applaud you for be tech savvy enough to produce such wonderful results in such a short amount of practice.

LIttle Penguin Quilts said...

Sounds like a lot of fun to learn this new system - I can tell you're excited about it, too! Using a panel for practice is a great idea!

Chris said...

Those years of working with your Berninas and the software have prepared you to just step right into this new process. So happy for you!

Kat Scribner said...

Well that feather motif is just beautiful! Wish I could do such lovelies freehand. Have a safe week.

chrisknits said...

Now I want a computer system for my new machine! LOL. Lovely design.