Saturday, January 15, 2011

Fitting that Quilt Sandwich Into Your Domestic Machine

Quilting and prize winning are the topics of today. One lucky person has won a Wonderfil thread prize package. The rest of you get to learn a bit about fitting your quilt into your domestic machine.

First, I must apologize for the delay with this posting. Sometimes life has a way of getting in the way of what we want to do and sometimes is gets in the way of what we should be doing. I'll just keep it short and sweet and say that Dad came out of his surgery well, they've given him new meds that should fix the growths on his feet and he's walking better than he has for years. Go Dad!

Now, onto quilting. When quilting that lovely quilt sandwich we made last week, it is easy to become intimidated when we start thinking about where to begin. First and foremost, we always start in the middle and work our way out. If we were going to stipple the quilt, we would wind several bobbins with our desired thread and thread the machine. We'll probably need at least six to eight bobbins for a double. The reason we load all those bobbins is because once we have that sandwich under the machine, we don't want to remove it to wind a new bobbin.

Next change your needle. Yup, you heard me. A new needle is in order, and now just any needle. You need a QUILTING needle. I can hear you now, "but I use the same needle for everything, why should I change now?" The short and sweet answer is that each needle is designed for a specific purpose and while sometimes we can't see the difference, there are differences between needles and for best results, we want the one designed for the job. You wouldn't haul gravel in the trunk of your car would you? So why would you use the wrong tool for this job? You've spent hundreds of dollars on that quilt, why skimp on the cost of a needle? Get a quilting needle, it has a longer throat and eye and the tip is shaped to penetrate all those layers batting.
Get out your test sandwich and get take a test drive. This warms up your arms, gets your mind in quilting mode and ensures that your tension is correct. As a side note, when having tension problems check your threading first. Then check that your bobbin is in correctly. Then fiddle with your tension. After that, consider using different threads in top and bottom. Some of those "slippery" threads need a thread with "grip" to hold them in place. Both Invisifil and Decobob by Wonderfil have a bit of grip to better hold rayons and polyesters in place. When everything looks right, it is time to start quilting.

Many books and web-sites recommend that you should roll your quilt up (like you would a magazine for swatting flies) to fit it under the machine. DO NOT DO THIS! When you roll your quilt up, it is like trying to ram a canoe into that little space, There is no flex or bend to a rolled up quilt. Instead accordion fold your quilt. This gives flex and allows for easier movement under the foot.

You can fold up one side of your quilt, and drape the other over your shoulder and on your lap. Ensure your sewing table is free of clutter that might impede the movement of your quilt. If you are stitching in the ditch, or stitching long straight lines of quilting, you will stitch the first row top to bottom and the next row bottom to top. This keeps the top from continually shifting towards one end. If you are stippling or free motion quilting, start in the center and stitch a small area the work your way to one end. When you reach one end, go back to the center and work towards the other end.

Some quilters like to back stitch to hold their stitches in place, I prefer to pull the bottom thread to the top and bury them both when I remove the quilt from the machine. This allows invisible starts and stops. When you begin stippling in the center, you can restart at the exact same place and continue in the other direction if you did not back stitch. When you are finished bury the threads and like magic you have one continuous line of stipple.

A cute wall hanging
from one of my clients.

Stitch as much area as you can comfortable do without unfolding your quilt accordion, then refold and start again. When stitching very large areas, I will pass a huge safety pin through the folds in a couple spots to hold them together, or clamp them with bicycle (pant legs) clips.  Repeat this until you are finished. If you are stippling or free motion quilting, you will be finished at this point. If you are doing straight line or stitch in the ditch, you will need to check the back for any significant shifting. Fix any mistakes you see on the back before continuing. Now, fold the quilt the other way (fold up the bottom if you started with the sides) and start quilting the lines going the other way. Remember to go left to right for one row and right to left for the next.

Hope all that helps.

Now, onto the good stuff. THE WINNER OF OUR THREAD DRAW IS: Lee. I have sent you an email Lee. Watch for it in your in-box.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What quilting technique do you excel at and which one do you detest?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Layering Your Quilt For Quilting

While most of my quilts are now completed on my long arm, I have quilted dozens of quilts, some as large as a double, on my domestic machine.

There are three basic choices for holding your quilt together for quilting. They are hand basting, safety pins or spray basting. Generally speaking, I prefer to spray baste my layers together. It is fast and easy. It holds the layers together with little trouble and it prevents most shifting. My personal choice is 505 Spray. While initially, it can seem quite expensive, you must remember that one small can will baste several queen sized quilts. They key is using a light spray. It is baste, not glue. It takes only a light spraying to keep the layers intact. I do find that 505 does not work well with some 100% polyester batting. If you plan to use 100% poly batting, test the adhesion before you begin.

To begin, cut your backing about 6 inches larger than your quilt top. If you have a large enough table, use large binder clips or painters masking tape to hold your top to the table. If your table is not large enough, tape it to the floor or look into renting table space at your local quilt shop. (The trouble with taping it to the kitchen floor is that you have to move the table and chairs, sweep, scrub, baste the quilt and then scrub again to remove the basting spray. But the trouble is worth it in the end.) Ensure that your backing is flat and unwrinkled without stretching it. Pull it taut without stretch or distortion. I prefer to tape all the way around the backing. It uses more tape, but reduces shifting of the layers.

Once the backing is smooth, layer it with an equal sized piece of batting. Be sure the batting is smooth and equally spaced over the backing. Take care not to stretch or warp the batting when smoothing it. Be careful not to shift the backing fabric. Fold the batting up to the half way point and lightly spray the 505 to cover about 12 inches of the backing. Fold those 12 inches of batting back down and smooth them. This spray is re-positionable, so if it puckers, simply lift it and spray again. Once it is smooth, do the next 12 inches. When this side is complete, fold the other half of the batting up and repeat.

Now that the batting is smooth, layer the quilt top and smooth it in place. As you have done with the batting, you will fold back half of the quilt top, spray 12 inches, unfold, smooth and repeat. Remove the tape and check the back for wrinkles. It should be noted here that it will not be perfectly flat. Like a quilted quilt, it will have some texture. There should not be any bulges, folds or puckers.

Now that it is correct, you can begin quilting. If the quilt is larger than a lap quilt, I like to add a few pins to keep it in place. When you are doing the quilting, your quilt sandwich will be folded, twisted, puckered, shoved and pulled. A couple pins keep the sandwich intact. I like to pin about every 10 to 12 inches if I have already spray basted.

If your space is not large enough, this can be done in sections. Complete layering one section, then do the next. I prefer to do full widths or lengths if I can rather than quarters. There is less folding and shuffling this way. Simply start at the top of your quilt and baste the top section, shift everything up, do the next section and work your way down. It is harder to get the quilt smooth this way, but it can be done!

Pin Basting: For pin basting start by opening all of your pins. Tape the backing down, add the batting and smooth it. Add the top and smooth it. Working from the center out, pin the quilt about every 6 inches. You should stagger your rows by three inches to avoid long rows without pins. I prefer to use small safety pins rather than large ones. They are harder to put in but seem to hold the layers together better. Buy good pins. Cheap pins are often dull and have trouble penetrating the layers. You will need about 400 pins for a lap quilt. Your local quilt shop may sell a pin clip, the Kwik Klip. This is a special tool for closing safety pins. Consider purchasing one if you plan to pin a lot of quilts. When you are quilting, remove the pins as you come to them.

Hand Basting: For hand basting use a light colored thread and use large stitches. Do not tie the thread off, leave the tails and space your rows about 4 inches across. Work from the center out and stitch both horizontally and vertically.

My next posting will be on fitting that monster on your sewing machine.

Question of the Day: What is your preferred method for basting your quilt? (I cheat and use my long arm.)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Quilting on Your Domestic Machine

Some of my earlier practise pieces.
I admit, its been a while since I did any real quilting on my domestic machine. I play with it occasionally just to keep my skills up, but I am spoiled because I own a long arm machine that I wouldn't trade for anything. Still, I do play with quilting on the domestic and I do enjoy using it for small projects. Recently, I made a series of 4" by 12" wall hangings. (Long Fellas.) I seemed silly to load them on the long arm, so I quilted them on my Bernina.

Years ago, when I first started quilting, I taught myself how to quilt on a home machine. The most critical thing I learned was that you need a walking foot for the straight aways, and a hopping or darning foot for the curved bits. My first couple quilts had long straight stretches of stitch in the ditch and some motifs that I quilted by hand because I didn't know how to free motion.

I learned free motion the long way. I made about 30 pot holders and practised on them first. This allowed me to perfect the motions I needed and to learn to coordinate the machine speed with the speed I moved my project. Being small, there was no need to worry about excess quilt getting in the way. Next, I made myself place mats. I bit larger for the project, but not too big to be really difficult. Then came table runners, wall hangings and finally a quilt. It was a long way to go, but I learned something each step of the way.

Now, when I have time I play around with practise squares. I made some practise squares about 12 inches square. I layered them with batting scraps. (I have boxes of these.) Each square gets used several times. I used a plain fabric because thread shows up best on plain fabrics. I quilt in a contrasting fabric because the point of this is to perfect my technique and I need to see what is going on. Often, I will reuse a square by quilting over what I have done in a different thread. I'm not worried about perfection because I know this is a scrap. These squares are also handy for testing new stitches and adjusting your tension. Running a test drive before starting your "real" projects will save you a lot of grief.

I've also found that this practise transfers to the long arm machine with is an added bonus. I think the mind remembers the motions and knows to transfer moving the fabric to the head of the machine.

Making the squares: I love 505 basting spray for this. Cut a pile of 12 inch squares. (Or what ever works for you.) Cut one batting square for every two fabric squares. Protect you table with scrap paper. (I use examination table paper from the medical supply store.) Put one square of fabric wrong side up. Spray LIGHTLY with 505. Place a batting square on top, spray again, place the second fabric square on top (right side up.) Check that it is all smooth and you are all set to go.

You can see that this is being re-used.
Now: put on your hopping foot and away you go. I find it easier to run the machine at a medium to fast rate and move my fabric quite quickly. You'll find that initially, your stitches run the gamut from tiny to huge. Don't worry about it. Just keep practising. Don't even worry about pattern or crossing over what you have already completed. Just focus on meshing that machine speed with your motion. It comes faster than you think. I've read that you can master this skill in about eight hours. That's the good news. The bad news is that if you don't keep on it, your skill slips a bit. Try to fit in a few minutes every time you sew for practise.

If you are interested in a great set of videos on free motion quilting, check out Patsy Tompson at this link: Another great resource is Leah Day. Check out her blog at: She has fabulous free motion ideas.

Remember to enter the draw for that Wonderfil thread package by commenting on this posting or any of the other ways listed in my previous post.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Do you quilt your own projects or do you hire a quilter? Why?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Win Yourself Some Wonderfil Thread

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm giving away a sampler package of Wonderfil Thread's Invisifil. This is a fabulous thread for couching, top stitching, quilting and even piecing where a large number of seams will all come together. It is 100 weight and almost invisible. It is by far my favorite thread for stitch in the ditch as it hides in the ditch and should you happen to "swerve" a bit while stitching it is almost impossible to notice. I don't know about you, but I don't always sew straight and sometimes stitch in the ditch is quite difficult if the seams are not pressed properly. I will be making the draw for this thread on January 15, 2011. (Wow 2011 already, can you believe it?)

All you have to do to enter this draw is one or all of the following:
1. Sign up as a follower to this blog and leave a comment here that you have done so.
2. Visit my website: and leave a comment here about your favorite pattern.
3. If you are already a follower, tell me what kind of topics you would like to see in the future.
4. If you have a blog, mention this draw on your blog and let me know you have done so to receive two entries to the draw.
5. Submit a name for the quilt shown below. (I may or may not use your name for the pattern.)

Sadly, this contest is only open to Canada and the Continental United States. Later draws will be open to other areas as well.

Below is a picture of what is going to be my new pattern. It will be available for sale starting next week. The trouble is that I don't have a name for it yet. It is entirely made of scraps (except the binding.) The center is strip pieced and the borders are made triangle scraps. I used all the same white, but it would look lovely with all different whites as well.

Question of the Day: What would you call this quilt?