Sunday 10 July 2022

A Lesson in Quilting


The term "quilting" is frequently used for the entire art of quiltmaking, from start to finish. But, in its strictest sense, it refers to the part of the art where the layers of the quilt - quilt top, batting and backing - are stitched together. This can be done by tying the quilt (using thread, embroidery floss or yarn), quilting by hand using needle and thread, or quilting by machine. The machine quilting can be done either on a domestic sewing machine or a longarm. 

I made one tied quilt, but the ties started working their way out. I intended to use an X-stitch on my sewing machine to replace the ties, but never got around to it. That quilt might still be in my stash somewhere... I have never hand-quilted and I doubt I will ever try it, but I won't say "never". I have surprised myself by the things I have tried. 

My earliest quilts were quilted on my domestic sewing machine. Most of which was straight line quilting using a walking foot. Sewing machines tend to feed the bottom fabric faster than the top fabric, which would result in puckers in the back of your quilt. A walking foot ensures the top and bottom feed evenly, but it also works quite slowly. Zzzz... When I tried free motion quilting (kind of like doodling) on my domestic machine, it was not successful. In order to do this, you have to drop the feed dogs on the sewing machine, switch to a darning or embroidery foot (newer machines designed for quilters actually come with a quilting foot) and make other adjustments on the machine, most of which I don't remember. The most important part of free motion quilting on a domestic machine is learning to synchronize how fast you move the quilt around with the speed of the stitching (how hard you push down the foot pedal) because most domestic machines don't have stitch regulators that coordinate this for you. I never mastered this and either ended up with huge stitches or really tiny stitches. I did slightly better after taking a course in machine quilting, but by then I had discovered longarm quilting. Another issue with quilting on a domestic machine is what to do with all of the bulk of a quilt. The last larger quilt that I finished on my domestic machine was my grandson's John Deere quilt. In addition to the sewing machine cabinet, I set up two extra tables. 

It certainly didn't help that my cats took turns
going along for the ride. 
But even with the tables (and without the cats), I still had to wrestle the bulk of that quilt through the throat space of the machine when I wanted to quilt in the centre. No easy feat! And this was only a 70" square quilt! Yes, the newer machines do have larger throat or harp spaces, but still not a fun challenge, especially not with a larger quilt. Imagine trying to maneuver a king-sized quilt!

 And then there is the whole issue of basting: in order to keep all layers equal and hopefully not get any puckers with the quilting, the layers need to be basted together somehow. This is generally done using an adhesive spray or safety pins. Either way, you need a large area to lay the quilt out while basting. The adhesive spray, which I have never used, is likely the quickest method, but you need to make sure you are in a well ventilated area. Where the safety pins are concerned, you can actually get special curved safety pins so that they are easier to get in and out of a quilt without moving the quilt around too much. You must tape the backing down with painter's masking tape to keep it taut during the procedure. Then lay down the batting and backing and crawl all over the quilt applying safety pins, hurting your knees, your back and your fingers. How many people have a large enough flat surface that they don't mind getting pinholes in to use for quilt basting? Some people have actually bought plywood or foam board, but then you have to store it somewhere. I've tried doing it on an unfinshed basement floor, and then the basement flooded before I finished. I've tried doing it on carpet, and of course, I ended up with the quilt pinned to the carpet. I actually bought a basting gun that applied those little plastic tags kind of like what's used to apply price tags to garments. But that soon jammed. Ah, what we put ourselves through to make a quilt. 

So, yes, I do still quilt things like hot pot holders on my domestic sewing machine. Admittedly, I'm quite lazy about it and mostly just use the regular foot and no special settings and just straight lines. And don't always even pin the layers together. 

When it comes to longarm quilting, there actually are sit-down longarm machines. You encounter some of the same problems that you encounter with a regular sewing machine, except that it has a bigger throat space. For me, maneuvering the quilt rather than the machine seems couterintuitive because it's kind of like drawing by moving the paper instead of the pencil. And one of the best things about longarming on a stand-up machine is that the basting is all done on the frame as you advance the quilt. No more pins or sprays!!! However, I've longarmed long enough to recognize that there are advantages to being able to freely maneuver the quilt, as you can with a sit-down machine. 

When it comes to quilting, there are actually several methods of quilting a design. First of all, there is free motion. As I mentioned, it's kind of like doodling. And as someone who has never really been much of a doodler, it definitely does not come naturally to me. There are also stencils that can be traced onto the quilt. I do have a few, but they would have to be traced onto the quilt first, which makes it more time consuming. I would also have to have a method of tracing that shows up well enough for me to be able to follow it with the machine, lasts long enough for me to complete the quilting and then is easy to remove once finished. So far, I haven't been thrilled with the options. Then there is this lovely gold paper on a roll, about the weight of tissue paper, that I can draw or trace my desired design onto, and then stitch directly through the paper. The downside is having to remove all the bits of paper afterwards. Then there are special quilting rulers. These are ¼" thick acrylic and not cheap, but then quilting does not tend to be an inexpensive hobby. I bought a bunch of them once during a Christmas "stuff your stocking" event at one of my favourite vendors. But then I had to buy the ruler base for my longarm (definitely not cheap) and the Sure Foot (also not cheap). But the thing I like about rulers is their precision. Don't get me wrong - it's still quite easy to wobble and wander off in the wrong direction. And using them can make one wish that one had 8 arms like an octupus, and feel like a contortionist. This might be one of those times when having a sit-down machine might work better... (The jury is still out on that). But using rulers is very labour-intensive. It's not a fast method of completing a quilt. 

Finally, there are pantographs, my preferred method of quilting. Pantographs are quilting designs on a roll of paper, usually 12' long, the width depending on the width of the design. 

Someone has already created the designs. I just have to choose one, lay it on the pantograph shelf at the back of my machine 
and stitch out the design by following it with the laser light. 
One edge to edge design used for the entire quilt. I don't have to try and figure out a design for each section of the quilt. And I can quilt many things like horses or cupcakes that I would never be able to replicate using free motion quilting. 
And I can usually find a pantograph that suits the theme of the quilt. I will admit that doing a simple fmq design would actually be faster than most pantographs. I did a simple loop-de-loop design on a baby quilt once. And it was pretty speedy, but I was disappointed that I didn't use a pantograph that would have been more suitable to the quilt. 

I also will admit that there are times when I look at a quilt and think that it would benefit from something more than just a pantograph. Such was the Maple Leaf quilt that I made for my daughter. I had considered using a maple leaf pantograph, but didn't really feel that it would be the best method for dealing with this quilt. Instead I opted for rulers and free motion quilting. 

While there are plenty of imperfections, I'm really pleased that I didn't go with a pantograph. 

Of course, there was also my Practice Makes Perfect quilt, which I did for a course in free motion quilting. That wasn't just a simple all-over design. It was practicing different motifs for the entire quilt. And my comment at that time was that I didn't enjoy it enough to keep doing it. 

However, I keep seeing new quilting challenges that I'd like to try in spite of my reservations. And thus it was with Welsh quilting. Welsh quilting is a form of whole cloth quilting. And whole cloth quilting is, as the name suggests, quilting on one whole piece of the same cloth. There is no patchwork involved, and the only piecing involved would be if the piece of fabric isn't big enough to make the desired size of quilt. But the quilt top would be all of the same fabric, generally a solid or a fabric that would "read as" solid. Because the emphasis in a whole cloth quilt is on the quilting, not the intricacies or colour play and geometric design of the patchwork. And when I saw the projects in the Craftsy Welsh Quilting course, I wanted to try it. I wanted to take a giant leap out of my pantograph comfort zone and tackle this intricate quilting. Especially since a lot of it could be done with rulers. 😊

And I did it. 

And I am actually quite thrilled with the results. 
Of course, I used Michael Miller Fairy Frost, one of my all-time favourite fabrics. Because it's not a solid, it conceals more of my imperfections than a solid would.
These two will be 20" pillow covers. After I finished both of them, I then went on to play with the octagon quilt block (Brackman 292, Hexagon Beauty Quilt) at the top of this post, which will be a cushion cover for the peacock chair in my craft studio. This one isn't Welsh quilting, just me playing with rulers and fmq. Each one of these small quilts probably took longer than quilting most of my larger quilts. But the results, in my not so humble opinion, are pretty spectacular. 
Now I need to finish them up so that they can actually be used (and admired - at least by me. LOL!). 

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