Friday, September 3, 2021

Behind the Scenes: Digital Custom Long Arm Quilting With Q-Matic on a Judy Niemeyer Quilt

Good Morning, Happy Friday, Happy Labor Day Weekend, and Happy September!  It was in the fifties this morning in Charlotte, which felt GLORIOUS after the sweltering hot Armpit-of-the-South weather we've had for the past few months.  Fall is my favorite time of year and it can't get here soon enough!

Custom Digital Quilting Fit for a Prismatic Star Queen

Sneak Peek of the Custom Feather Quilting Under My Needle

I've spent more time quilting in the studio than sitting at the computer lately, so I have lots of things I could be sharing with you.  Today, I thought folks might like to see a custom quilting project that I'm working on for a client right now and learn a little bit about what goes on behind the scenes when custom quilting with digital designs.  Spoiler alert: the process is not as automated as you might expect!  Here's my client's quilt top, prior to being loaded onto my frame;

Auditioning Threads for Mildred's 91 x 91 Prismatic Star Queen Quilt Top

My client Mildred pieced this gorgeous Prismatic Star Queen quilt top using one of Judy Niemeyer's Quiltworx foundation paper piecing patterns.  

Prismatic Star Queen Pattern, available at your LQS or on Etsy here

My client loves the way the sample quilt on the pattern cover was quilted and wants hers to be quilted the same way.  Well, guess what?  Quiltworx sells digital quilting designs for many of their quilts, including this one, so I am able to quilt Mildred's Prismatic Star Queen EXACTLY like the pattern photo.  How cool is that?

Quiltworx Digital Quilting Designs for Prismatic Star Queen

Computerized custom quilting is still custom quilting, and there's a lot more involved than pushing the Start button and walking away.  First of all, although the image above is included as a reference for placing the designs on your quilt, each of these feather designs is an individual motif, like this:

26 inch Corner Feather Motif

There are just five designs in the set, one design for the pieced diamond sections in the quilt and four designs that fit various parts of the background.  Before I could start quilting, I had to set up the full quilt in the computer, positioning the designs and rotating, mirror imaging, and duplicating the designs as necessary to create the symmetrical feather layout.

Custom Quilt Layout Set Up in Q-Matic

Since each of these feather motifs will be stitched individually, some of you may be wondering why I bothered to map out the entire quilt in Q-Matic at all.  It would certainly be faster to skip this step and just start quilting the designs out right away.  Two reasons: First, since I can only see about 20" of the quilt at a time as I'm quilting it on the frame, it would be VERY easy to get confused about where I was in the quilt and stitch out a design with the feather spine going in the wrong direction if I didn't have this visual map to take me through the quilt row-by-row.  Second, each time I position one of these feather motifs on the quilt, I'll be using Q-Matic's Boundary tool with Morph to Fit to slightly distort the designs as needed to precisely fit my client's piecing.  If I was just using the same design over and over throughout the quilt, this distortion would multiply like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy (times 48 diamonds in the quilt top) and the feather motifs at the bottom of the quilt would not look nearly as good as the ones at the top.  So mapping out the entire quilt with which designs go where makes it less likely to make mistakes, and also ensures that I'm starting with a "clean" copy of each design and only alter each design once to fit the quilt top.

So, am I ready to start stitching feathers yet?  NO!  In order to showcase my client's piecing, she and I agreed that the quilt needed/deserved the extra effort of stitching in the ditch (SID) for the sashing strips surrounding the pieced diamond units.  Although you technically could use a computer for SID, that is even more tedious and time consuming than doing it by hand with rulers, and it doesn't even look any better -- in fact, the only reason I know of for doing SID by computer is to qualify for certain quilt shows' Computerized Quilting category where the rules stipulate that all of the quilting must be computerized.  

SID is Still Hand-Guided Ruler Work, No Computer

Ditch work is very slow going and tiring, and I can only work at it for an hour or two at a time before my eyes get bleary and my neck and shoulders get stiff.  It's not very gratifying work, either, because the more accurate you are, the more invisible these structural quilting stitches are and so you slave away for hours of quilting, step back to admire your work, and it looks like there isn't any quilting at all!  I'm using my favorite ruler for SID, Lisa Calle's 2 1/2" x 6" ProMini from her Quilter's Groove line.

Can You Even See the SID Quilting Stitches Behind My Ruler Foot?

Well, if no one can see the SID quilting, you may be wondering, then why am I doing it in the first place?  A couple of reasons: First, SID in a custom quilt functions like the foundation garments that you wear under a wedding gown:

SID is to Custom Quilting as Spanx is to Formal Wear

No, we don't want to see your bra and girdle, but they give support and structure that helps you and your beautiful dress look as good as possible on your special day!  Same thing with this quilt.  Quilting along these major seam lines first will lock them in place, nice and straight, so they won't be distorted or skewed crooked later when the swirling feather designs get stitched.  SID is also more attractive on most custom quilts because of how it impacts the three-dimensional texture of the finished quilt.  Quilting stitches compress the batting and push the surface of the quilt down along the stitching line, whereas unquilted areas in between the quilting stitches will tend to puff up and stick up on the surface of the quilt.  It's much more noticeable when a custom quilt has NOT been stitched in the ditch, because all of the unquilted seamlines will be sticking up and out between the decorative quilting stitches -- the way your tummy might be sticking out in all of your wedding pictures if you didn't wear your Spanx underneath!  (Although, for the record -- I tried one of those Spanx girdle things once to squeeze into a dress that I bought on clearance that was one size smaller than I would have liked.  Yes, the Spanx made the dress look better on me, but it was tighter than compression hosiery and I was miserably uncomfortable!  I'd rather choose a different dress than ever do that to myself again.  Don't even get me started about trying to use the restroom when you're trapped in a sausage casing...). 

Okay, back to quilting!

So here I was, four days into this custom quilt already with no feathers yet -- and no visible quilting at all -- to show for myself!  The first day was loading the quilt, finalizing thread selections, purchasing and downloading the design set from Quiltworx, converting the designs to Bernina's BQM format in Art & Stitch software so that my Q-Matic can read the files, and getting the design of the entire quilt mapped out in Q-Matic.  It took me three days of working off and on, with breaks whenever my eyes, neck and shoulders were getting tired, to complete the SID and basting.  On this quilt, the eye strain would get to me even before the muscle aches.  

SID and Basting Complete, Finally Ready to Start Feathers!

As you can see in the photo above, I used a gazillion flat flower head pins throughout larger unquilted sections to prevent the layers from shifting and creating tucks or pleats.  I could have basted these areas with large machine stitches, but I didn't because of the thread I was using for the SID.  I used Superior's MonoPoly invisible monofilament thread in Clear for all of the ditch work because sometimes I was stitching on the pale aqua background fabric, and other times I was stitching on the deep purple or blue batiks.  Just like no one wants to see your bra strap peeking out of your wedding gown, no one wants to see contrasting thread colors peeking out along the seam lines of a quilt!  If I had basted the unquilted areas with invisible thread, I might have missed seeing and removing some of those basting stitches when it came time to quilt the feathers.  Hence the brightly colored, easy to see and remove flower head pins, placed horizontally so they will roll up nicely on the frame without bending.

After completing all of the ditch work and basting, I rethreaded my machine with Glide thread in color 60566 Pale Mist, which I'll be using for the remainder of the quilting.  I did consider using a light-to-medium purple on those purple diamond sections and a bluer thread on the blue diamonds.  But whereas the SID was meant to be invisible, we DO want to see these gorgeous feather designs, and that makes contrasting thread color more desirable than matchy-matchy.  I don't need a contrasting thread for the quilting to show up in the background areas because the quilting is always more visible against solid or near-solid fabrics like this aqua batik.

With most of the grunt work done, I was finally ready to begin transforming the surface of the quilt with beautiful feathers.  But that's not a one-click process, either.  Before stitching each and every feather motif, I use the sewhead of my machine to trace the seam lines and then I customize the feather motif to fit as precisely into that space as possible by rotating the design on my screen in one degree increments, resizing the height and/or width, and fine-tuning the placement of the design before actually stitching it out on the patchwork.  It takes about 5-8 minutes to adjust each design to my liking, depending on how close to ideal the piecing is in the area I'm working in.  Then it takes about 10-15 minutes for each of these feather motifs to stitch out, because my Q-Matic slows the machine way down automatically where the stitching accuracy is crucial, like the backtracked bumps on the feather plumes and the tiniest little plumes inside the feather curls.  But all that time and effort definitely pays off when the feather designs stitch out with beautiful symmetry and perfect backtracking every time!

The End Result is Totally Worth the Effort!

September's Personal Quilting Goal:

Ah, yes -- a new month means a new goal or two, doesn't it?  I'll definitely be finishing Mildred's Prismatic Star quilt before the month is up, as well as a few edge-to-edge customer quilts.  I know this might sound pitiful, but my One Monthly Goal for personal quilting projects in September is just going to be trimming my pineapple log cabin quilt and getting a machine embroidered label made for it.  If I find myself with extra time on my hands and get it bound as well, that will just be gravy!

PSST!!  I'd Love to Quilt for YOU!

By the way, if you or any of your quilty friends has a quilt top or two that needs quilting, I'd be delighted to quilt for you!  As of right now, I still have several slots available for those edge-to-edge quilts you're wanting to gift for the holidays!  Click here to find out how to book your quilt with me!

I'm linking up today's post with all of my favorite linky parties.  Be sure to check a few of them out so you can enjoy and be inspired by what others have been working on!


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

BOMs Away at What a Hoot Quilts


To-Do Tuesday at ChrisKnits


Midweek Makers at Quilt Fabrication

Wednesday Wait Loss at The Inquiring Quilter


Needle and Thread Thursday at My Quilt Infatuation  

Free Motion Mavericks with Muv and Andree

Sew and Tell Thursday (on BerninaLand


Whoop Whoop Fridays at Confessions of a Fabric Addict

Peacock Party at Wendy’s Quilts and More

Finished or Not Friday at Alycia Quilts

Off the Wall Friday at Nina Marie Sayre

 TGIFF Thank Goodness It’s Finished Friday, rotates, schedule found here: TGIF Friday

One Monthly Goal at Elm Street Quilts


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

the quilt will be wonderful but that sure is a lot of quilting to do! and yes I agree that compression undergarments are totally uncomfortable and I would forgo and wear something that fits my body :)

Sewgirl said...

Wow, that's a lot of care even before you get to the 'fun' stuff! I'm sure it will be fantastic though when it's done. Thanks for sharing you. process! said...

How cool is it that she can get the exact pattern on her quilt as was featured on the pattern! Your SID is beautiful. You are bonding well with your new machine!

Sandy said...

You're amazing, Rebecca Grace -- your work is so beautiful. BTW, my favorite ruler for straight lines is also Lisa Calle's Pro Mini, though I use it on my domestic 790+. :)

Gretchen Weaver said...

That quilt is beautiful! Doing the SID is vital to your quilt. It's the basic items that can make or break a quilt, happy stitching!

Nancy @ Grace and Peace Quilting said...

Wow, you go girl!!! It's going to be gorgeous!!!

Annette Schneider said...

Amazing! I also have a Bernina Q24, but opted out of Qmatic. As I'm 78 y.o., I feel that my time is better spent sewing up my stash :-) I basically use hand guided pantos, and some FMQ. You have made learning Qmatic seem easy. Your work is beautiful, and attention to detail so admirable!

Kathleen said...

That is an incredible amount of work but what a gorgeous quilt it will be. I love figuring out the puzzle with my own design choices, but placement does take some time to master. You are doing such an awesome job. Good luck with your goal for the month.

Frédérique - Quilting Patchwork Appliqué said...

I love your metaphore! Comparer soutien-gorge et couture, quelle bonne idée ! J'aime beaucoup lire tout le processus de réflexion avant de quilter un tel ouvrage.
Have fun with your OMG too!

Preeti said...

Mildred made the right choice in sending this gorgeous quilt top to you. You will do it justice, I am sure.

AnnieO said...

That amount of cutting and piecing deserves the loving attention to quilting you are giving it. Ditch stitching is dull but I also find it to be necessary on lots of quilts. Wonderful work you're doing!

Andree G. Faubert said...

Hi Rebecca, I love hearing about the work behind the quilting - and now I really, really know that it's not for me :-) You do wonderful work but that is way too fiddley for me. Thanks so much for linking up to Free Motion Mavericks. Take care.

Linda said...

Thank you for the behind the scenes look at quilting on the big girl machine! I read every word and am trying to imagine myself doing that kind of superior level work in the future. Love the Spanx reference - it's perfect!
Thanks for linking up to To Do Tuesday. :)

Jennifer Fulton Inquiring Quilter said...

So fun to read about the behind the scenes quilting tasks. Lovely result! Can't wait to see the entire quilt. Thanks for Sharing on Wednesday Wait Loss.

Alycia~Quiltygirl said...

That is amazingly beautiful!!

Susan said...

Gorgeous feathers on this!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing this behind-the-scenes view of what you do! The quilt is gorgeous, and I would love to be able to do what you do if I had the time. This is stunning!