Tuesday 22 September 2020

The 'Gladys Over' Quilt

I remember a story one of my favourite pastors told. It was about a pastor who had preached his first sermon in a new church. As he was greeting the members of the congregation after the service was over, one lady said to him, "I'm glad it's over." He was rather taken aback and wondered what he had possibly said to offend this women that she was glad his sermon was over. That is, until he was brought to the realization that she was introducing herself, "I'm Gladys Over." So, now that this quilt is finished, I am glad it's over, and think that maybe I should have called it the 'Gladys Over' quilt, instead of 'Practice Makes Perfect.' 

My Free Motion Quilting Journey

Many years ago, I would occasionally assist some of the ladies at my church with quilting quilts. These were generally made of polyester double knit and we "quilted" them with ties of yarn. That was my first experience with "quilting." When I made my very first quilt, which you can see in my post, "My Quilting Journey", I quilted it on my sewing machine. I had never even heard of a walking foot, let alone a free motion quilting foot, and was just "stitching in the ditch" before that was even a term. I think I had read somewhere about quilting by machine and so I tried it, especially since I'm just not into hand stitching if I can avoid it. As I really didn't know what I was doing, my stitching was much too far apart, but that quilt is still together. The cat quilt I made for my baby daughter (now aged 30) was quilted the same way. And it's still around as well.
Then I discovered the walking foot and I continued with stitch in the ditch, only making my stitching lines closer together. I had a sewing machine with a darning foot and an embroidery foot, but when I attempted free motion quilting, I just wasn't getting it. Even though I'd enrolled in an online course, I couldn't do it. I couldn't get the tension right - I was getting "eyelashes" on the back, and my stitches were always too small or too big. I was never much of a doodler and having to move the "paper" (the quilt sandwich) instead of the "pen" (the sewing machine) wasn't working for me. I just couldn't get it. I was told to try using an embroidery hoop and keep practicing. But wasting all of that time and fabric wasn't really something I was prepared to do. 
Then I gave longarm quilting a try, using a pantograph, renting in a longarm studio. And I was hooked. Having stitch regulation, being able to move the machine rather than the quilt, and following a pantograph with a laser light worked so well for me. And I could finish a quilt in hours, rather than days or longer. And there are thousands of pantographs available, so I didn't need to limit myself to just a few designs. 
But I still thought about that free motion quilting (fmq) thing. And, not yet being able to purchase my own longarm, I still wanted to be able to finish quilts on my domestic machine. So, I took a night class at a sewing/quilting/fabric store. And I learned a lot. I learned that there are sewing machine snobs. I overheard a couple of the ladies in the class talking and agreeing that you can't get a decent sewing machine for less than a few thousand dollars. I don't remember the exact figure - $2000? $3000$ - but it was much more than I was thinking about paying for a sewing machine. And I was the only one in the class with an older machine. My Janome MC 8000 was probably over 20 years old at the time, although it had been a topnotch machine when it was made. And still was for that matter. And even though it was made for embroidery, not quilting, the ladies with their fancy new machines didn't really do any better with the practice exercises than I did. And we practiced with the walking foot, with stencils, with Pounce, with marking pens, with Golden Threads quilting paper. I bought an open toe quilting foot for my machine, and I gained sufficient skill that I decided to attempt quilting a throw-sized quilt (Unbroken, 60" square) on my domestic machine. It was disastrous, and I ended up picking out some very tiny stitches. Since then, I have only quilted very small projects (wallhangings, hot pot holders) on my sewing machine. That particular quilt is the only quilt on which I have ever used computerized quilting, as I rented one of the longarms at my local quilt shop. The owner set up the program for me, and I just had to press the button and cut off the thread at the end of each motif. 
I continued to finish my quilts on the longarm using pantographs, eventually purchasing my Amara. I was not going to practice fmq when I was renting longarms. At an hourly rate, it would have been just too expensive. However, the same shop owner that set me up on her computerized machine also taught me a basic loop-de-loop and I finished one quilt, Sweet Dreams, using this technique  And now that I owned my own longarm, I felt that I should at least give fmq a try. I took one course in longarm fmq in a quilt shop, in March of 2019. And actually, I didn't do too badly. But I was still reluctant to ruin a perfectly good quilt by practicing on it. Or waste good - and expensive - fabric. However, Quilt Canada was coming to Edmonton this year. And I enrolled in some fmq classes. Well, we all know what happened with the pandemic, so that never happened. Finally, on Bluprint's final day of sales, I purchased some classes on DVD, one of which was Christina Cameli's Free-Motion Quilting Essentials. Now I was comitted to giving it a bigger try, on my own machine, in my own home, without the time (and space) constraints imposed by in-class learning.
The problem with this course is that it is taught on a domestic sewing machine. And the instructor uses 10" blocks - not exactly a size that's workable on a longarm without being made into a quilt. The instructions called for 5 each of 3 different blocks. And I tried to figure out how to make 15 - 10" blocks into a workable quilt. Even though this was just a practice quilt, I still wanted it to be useful. I finally decided to add 10 of my own blocks (5 each of 2 different blocks) with 2" sashing and came up with a 62" square quilt. 
Next, I had to decide on fabric. I'm not a big fan of solids. As a matter of fact, I don't even always use solids for my background fabrics. So, initially, I was thinking of textures/tonals. But then I decided that, as I was practicing free motion quilting, I really wanted to be able to see the quilting. And that is done best on solids. I still have quite a few blues and greys left over from the Bluenose II Pixel quilt, plus some greens, and a little red. Hmm, not exactly what made for an exciting quilt. While I was very happy with the results of the blue-grey combination in A-Maze-Ing, that was not all solids. And then I remembered the Dahlia quilt kit. I had purchased it at the same time as Queen Guinevere's Tiles, and it has remained in my stash since. Here's the pattern: 
And here's the fabric that came with the kit:
Nothing against this pattern, but if I am going to go to all the trouble of stitching all of those curved seams, I am certainly not going to waste my efforts on such an uninspiring colour combination, and likely not solids either. Grey is one of my least favourite colours in a quilt, and not a colour that you would find in beautiful dahlia flowers. So, I have considered different options for this quilt kit. At one time, I considered using it as a signature quilt. Done completely in solids, there is plenty of space for notes from friends. But I also thought that if I ever need solids in those colours, I could use the fabrics from this kit. Well, now was the time. However, I needed 5 different fabrics for the blocks, and I didn't really want to use the greys or the cream. From my stash, I pulled a purple-y blue and a funky colour combination was born. 
Then I had to choose the two extra blocks I was going to use. As these were 10" blocks, I had to choose a 5-patch pattern to keep it simple. I also like to try new block patterns, so didn't want to repeat ones I'd used before. The first I chose was the Cake Stand block. 
And I decided that I really do like this funky colour combination. Searching for a second block, I found some really interesting 5-patch patterns, but some of the piecing would end up quite small in a 10" block. And I really didn't want to tackle that in a quilt that was essentially just a vehicle for practicing free motion quilting. I found the Crow's Nest block on Jinny Beyer's site and found that the blocks went together very well using her templates. 
My goal was to use all 5 colours in all 25 blocks, with each colour in a different postion in each block. And I achieved that goal. 
After finishing the blocks, I auditioned them with the remaining fabrics from the kit to determine which one would make the best sashing:
the light grey,
the medium grey,
or the cream.
I actually asked my friends on Facebook for their opinions. While most people chose the cream, I was leaning more towards the medium grey. In spite of my dislike for grey in quilts, I just felt that this was the best colour to make these blocks "shine." I even tried putting different blocks on my design wall with the two favourite colours. 
and this.
Ultimately, I chose the medium grey and then a darker grey for cornerstones. 
And I was quite happy with the results.
Finally, I got the quilt on the longarm, and it was time to begin trying my hand at free motion quilting. 
The first lesson was on Wiggles and Loops. And I used the lazy 8s in the quilt border.
For the most part, I just quilted what was in the illustrations in the book. But the challenge was deciding what to put int the blocks that were not part of the class, plus the sashing and cornerstones. 
I wasn't getting the ribbon candy thing, and my lazy eights degenerated into something trying to look like a cursive upper-case 'G'. 
Feathers weren't actually part of this lesson, but I decided to try them anyway and really like the look of them in this block. 
The problem I find with stippling is that I find that I get myself into a corner and can't figure out how to get out. End of row 1.
The next lesson was Spirals and Sharp Points. I chose spirals for the horizontal sashing.
I'm actuallly reasonably pleased with how this block turned out. 
I forgot to turn the corner with my square spirals, but I wasn't much good at turning corners anyway. 
Really not bad for a beginner. 
Once again, drawing feathers and pebbles from lessons I hadn't actually taken yet. That's the end of row 2. 
The third lesson was on circles and travelling (which means going back over the same stitches) - and actually learning feathers and leaves. As you've probably noticed, I chose to use feathers in the vertical sashing.
Another challenging thing about this quilt was that while doing the fmq on a domestic machine, the block could be turned in any direction, while on a longarm, the quilt was stationary and I had to learn how to do the motifs from whatever direction the blocks were on the quilt. 
Some of my motifs, like the feather in the light blue, look pretty amateurish.But then, I am an amateur. 
After two rows of doing feathers in the large centre triangles in the Cake Stand block, I decided to try something different, and I like how it turned out.
And that's the end of row 3. 
The nest lesson was on radiant designs, S-curves and arcs. Those 'S' curves just aren't working for me. 
Though I haven't focused on them in thes pictures, you may have noticed that I keep trying different motifs in the dark grey cornerstones. I never did really settle on one that I liked.
Those flowers aren't cutting it either. LOL! 
I was almost finished this block, when I decided to change the position of my handles. I had been operating the machine with them in the micro-quitling position, but I moved them back up to the regular position and was actually happier with that. 
I managed this flower much better, with the handles in the up position than I did the one in the second block with them in the down position. End of row 4.
The final practice lesson was on adding emphasis and mashups. 
I think mashups is a good name for my free motion quilting. 
The square in the middle of this block was supposed to have an unquilted star in the middle. Unfortunately, I did not have a star shape handy and drew it freehand, so it was pretty wonky. Also, I used a white pencil, so it wasn't easy to see against this colour. After making quite a mess of it, I decided to just fill it all in with pebbles. I should have tried having the handlebars in the down position as these are pretty tiny pebbles. That square is only 4". 
My final cake stand block and I went back to feathers, only I tried to echo them. Can you tell I'm getting tired of fmq? Some awful looking quilting on those feathers. 
Worst S-curves! Most definitely getting tired of this by this point. Last block - yay!

Conclusions Regarding Free Motion Quilting

I didn't particularly enjoy this experience. While I don't think I did terribly (especially not for a beginner), and I do believe that I would improve with practice, I don't really enjoy it enough to want to practice. 
  • It takes a lot of effort to keep my size, shape and spacing consistent. With a pantograph, I'm following lines, so everything is going to stay reasonably consistent. 
  • With free motion quilting, unless I'm doing an edge to edge or allover design, I have to decide what to do with each indivdual piece of fabric. When I use a pantograph, I just have to choose the pantograph and get quilting. 
  • This type of fmq is too dense for me and I think the focus becomes the quilting rather than the quilt. I don't like that. The instructor said that if you want to de-emphasize part of the quilt or block, you should quilt more densely on that part. I find the opposite true - that I notice the more densely quilted parts more. 
  • This is definitely more intense quilting than pantographs. It takes more time, concentration and effort. 
  • There are thousands of pantograph designs available. I can quilt designs, like dinosaurs or cats - that I would probably never be able to accomplish with free motion quilting. 
In special situations, I may decide to use these skills again. And while I completed the Sweet Dreams quilt with an allover fmq design and could easily do that again, I'm still a little disappointed that I didn't use the Sweetness pantograph that I had originally intended for it. So, I am, and shall remain, a comitted pantograph quilter. 
One final thought: I have come to the conclusion that, unless the recipient is a fellow quilter, the average person will not even notice the design used to quilt a quilt. Sure, they know that it's stitched together, but unless the quilting is really obvious, like contrasting or heavy thread, or it's pointed out to them, are they going to notice that I used candy canes to quilt it? Not likely. I could probably quilt all of my quilts with Bumpity and the majority of recipients wouldn't know any different. So, in my opinion, the quilting is really for the satisfaction of the quilter. 
As far as the course itself is concerned, I can recommend it. Christina's a good teacher and the course gives a good foundation for learning free motion quilting. 

But I'm not quite finished practicing yet. A few years ago, when Sew Sisters was having a Stuff Your Stocking event, I foolishly purchased a bunch of machine quilting rulers. Why foolish? Because I think that quilting with rulers is going to be as much work, if not more, than free motion quilting. And I don't think I will enjoy it any more. And I had to buy a ruler base for my machine in order to use them. And then I enrolled in a Quilting with Rulers course in order to learn how. So, in order to justify my investment, I have to at least give quilting with rulers a try. And who knows? I might actually like it more than fmq since it's at least got to be more precise. 
And then there's that other free motion quilting class I purchased...
One more thing: I almost forgot to show you the fun backing fabric I used on this quilt. 
Isn't it awesome? Since it was a practice quilt, I determined to only use fabric from my stash in its construction. I had purchased this a few years back to use as backing for baby/children's quilts, but somehow it hadn't yet found its way into one. So, I decided this would be my fun and funky backing for my fun and funky quilt. 

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