Friday, July 13, 2018

Figuring out the Impossible

This quilt was mostly quilted last summer or early fall, and as of today has no official name. I guess, the quilt becomes "real" when the maker names it. It was originally made with the hope of finishing by December 2017 to enter in spring Paducah. I became disenchanted with things about it last year, stopped working on it, then proceeded to mark a peach piece of silk with the same pattern. The hope was that "try #2" would yield a good quilt. Needless to say, there was no entry for Paducah and I had 2 small quilts unfinished.
(yes, I know the damn circle at the center is not be dealt with)

On the bright side, the peach version of this quilt (named Persistent Peach) was finished, and is currently awaiting her first show! I'll show photos of this quilt, which has small differences from her green step sister, next month.

After I knew Persistent Peach would be done, I went back to this quilt and vowed to finish it, even if I later decided it would only be good enough to keep for myself. Finish what you start, I told myself.

Because the peach quilt is truly a whole cloth, meaning the quilt and binding are all from the same peach fabric, I decided to make this a "wall quilt". Should it actually make it to shows, I don't need 2 whole cloths. This worked well for my plan because I really wanted to incorporate black into the binding somehow (making it ineligible for the whole cloth category anyway). The quilting has lots of black thread on it.

I also decided I'd do a "go for the gusto" or freakishly nutsy binding. What better quilt to try something different on than one that may not be up to snuff anyways. I always fear screwing up a really well done quilt with my binding, but when the quilt is somewhat compromised, where's the harm?

So, this post will show you my thought process on how I added a silly edge of green and black loopy things, some black beaded trim and my first ever (maybe even last) facing. It is every-bit not my style, but I wanted to try these things.

The first task was to make a crazy amount - like 12 yards of green silk turned piping. It is stuffed with a piece of yarn. Sometime a year or so ago I think I showed how I did this for The Twisted Sister, but this quilt has MUCH more of this stuff. It was then cut into a couple hundred 2-3/4" pieces to make loops -- like those on the edges of a couple of Sharon Schamber's older quilts.
 This beady piping is not something I would use on every quilt, but since I was doing a facing, I thought it would give it a bolder black detail than a single micro piping. Though I worked this out simply on my own using a 2" piece of interfaced bias silk and purchased 4mm beads on a string, Bethanne Nemesh does teach classes on the technique. 170 inches of this trim took me about 10-11 hours to create - so not really an afternoon job, but not outrageous either. I used a very grippy thread (Black Omni) to stitch and knot between each bead. It was then trimmed to yield a 1/4" seam allowance, and stitched onto the edge of the quilt with a zipper foot.
One might think that sewing beside plastic beads is risky, but I only broke one needle in the entire binding process, and it was while doing the facing, which is completely blind (no visibility of the beads).

The piping is added first, then the green loops were individually glued to the quilt, set with pins until the glue dries. This took a proverbial lifetime because I could only set about 24" at a time, as my ironing board was in use with other things.
After they were all set, I stitched them down (zipper foot), and went to the facing.

Even though the quilt is silk, and the backing is a sateen, I chose to use a black batik for the facing. It is much tighter weave than the sateen, and I felt it would yield a more rigid framing. Colorwise, it was a good match.

I added one side of the 4-1/2" facing (pressed in half) to discover that small variations in measurement on the green loopies really showed (sorry, no photo). I was not happy. I had just discovered a finer satin cording, and ordered a lot of it, thinking I might remove the green loops and just go with black. At that point, I took off for Jamaica for 12 days, forgot about the quilt-binding-mess, and vowed to reinvent it upon my return.

When I got back, and saw the new cording, I decided to add an entire layer of black loops to the green loops, thereby doubling the loop density. This glue and pin eternity started again while I quilted client quilts for a few days. Not to fear, you will see a picture of my insanity soon...

So with the trim and loops, there was a goodly amount of bulk, and I feared it would not show nicely beneath the facing. Further, it was really challenging to get the quilt, with its double batting, to turn to the backside and lay smoothly.  Here's a glimpse at the thickness...

I contacted an art quilter who I know has a lot of experience with making faced quilts in hopes she could shed some light on what I should do. Sarah Ann Smith to the rescue!...

We brainstormed about how to make the bulk lay down better. She does not add the bulky edge trims that I used, but her more vast facing experience helped me to know a few things to definitely not to do. Don't trim the excess quilt - that may make it nearly impossible to get it to fold to the backside. Her first suggestion, which I knew of before contacting her was to run a row of stitching along the top of the quilt, right at the edge, catching the seam in its turned position. The problem with doing this is that I have a clean edge of matchstick quilting that I don't want interrupted with a seam running the opposite way. Good things to consider for the next time (LOL...there probably won't be a next time!) I do a facing. This is something I used to do with garment construction to make collars lay cleanly. It works for quilts too.

We decided I could trim away some of the thickness of this seam - namely excess of the loops outboard of the seam. Since the green loops were filled with yarn, they are thick. The quilt was not possible to thin down because it has this matchstick quilting right out to the edge.

I also trimmed as much as I could from the quilt and loops around the slightly rounded corners. The corners don't really turn easily to the backside anyways.

The other thing we decided would work was to hand baste the turned seam down, thereby preventing it from flapping up within the facing. This was a small stroke of genius. I didn't need ultra tiny stitches - 3 to the inch worked just fine.
The next step was something I was not sure would be needed, but I decided $3 of fusible was not a huge investment. I cut 1-3/4" wide fusible strips and stuck them underneath my double-fold facing, making sure to place it on top of the turned seam. This way the facing would adhere to the seam. It's not like my stitches were not going to hold, but this was their insurance policy. LOL!
 If nothing else, the fusible means I don't need to wrangle with pins when I hand stitch the facing. That is a $3 win-win!
It is a different look for me. I'd like to say it was a fun and interesting journey of a quilt, from working with the black thread to playing with a wild edge long after the worry of actually screwing up a competition quilt wore off. When there is no expectation, or assumption of what a quilt will be used for, the process becomes much more carefree, almost liberating. I am going to bling it up a little. Perhaps you can see the black crystals I already added to the corner. I have a few more to use. Some quilts just need more pizzazz.
So, thanks Sarah for being my sounding board on this. I know you said to get a sample and try things but seriously, this quilt was sort of my learning piece. How badly could I really screw this up?!? Next time I will use a sample. For today, I am happy with how it turned out. All it needs now is to hand stitch the facing down and add a sleeve & label. Oh, and I need to give it a name... Any ideas? Thus far mine have all been R-rated, thus not usable. Ha ha...!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Dream Big in Feathers

Back in March, I quilted another one of these gorgeous Dream Big panels, but in pink. That one was filled with all sorts of fillers from my two fills books (the green ones). While I was at MQX in April, I found this one in the orange tones. Those of you who know me know how very much I love orange. I was putty when I saw it, and knew it was definitely coming home with me, even if I couldn't imagine WHEN I'd ever have time to quilt it. When I will use all of the fabric I own is hardly the question to really ask!

I resurrected my Fearless Feathers class this year, and plan to teach it a few more times in the coming year or two. It only seemed fitting to create another sample to use in my class. These feathers are ALL from my book Fearless Feathers too, which anybody can purchase (look to the right sidebar). I explain all the ins and outs of feathering, and show each and every one of these type designs, somewhere. They run the full gamut from uber-traditional Victorian styled to avant-garde feathers suitable for more edgy quilts.
 I love these panels because they give even very seasoned quilters time to practice and play, without committing to a queen-sized piece. Each petal of this design is just enough practice space.
Some feathers are the backtracking variety, or Formal Feathers, while others are completely beginner-friendly. You can create so much gorgeous texture with the many styles of feathers that are possible.
 I even snuck in a pseudo feathered wreath at the flower's center.
This 42" quilt is double batted with 80/20 and wool battings. I wanted the definition of the feathers to be obvious.
 I quilted this with 4 colors of Glide thread - deep maroon (around periphery), red, dark orange and tangerine (only near center). The colors of thread graduated slightly with the colors of the petals, but they are darker than the actual fabric so that the contrast of the stitching shows just a tad more.
 Hopefully, this panel inspires somebody to try to quilt feathers. Many of these very feathers are part of my class content that I teach to very new quilters. They may look challenging, but I am confident that most of you can master these with just a little practice.
 School is just about out for my is now into 1/2 day finals, and the other two have 4 days left. Then it is officially summer and days of feather-play are harder for me. My quilting is spotty from now until late-August. Fortunately, I like to be up at 5am, and they appreciate 9am! 
Hopefully I have whet your appetite to take a feather class with me in the coming year or so. If you don't get to the shows where I teach, remember that these designs and techniques can be learned on your own from my book Fearless Feathers. And for those curious, the designs are applicable to either a long arm quilter or one who quilts on a domestic.


Friday, May 25, 2018

Little Brown Bird

This is a post that has been coming for a while. I don't mean to imply that this quilt has taken a while, but rather that the topic is one that many piecers should have a good look at. Longarm quilters that have quilted for a while have undoubtedly encountered a quilt that just would not lay quite right on the frame. You see, our frames are square, and they want to lay the quilt flatly, so if a quilt is not both of these things, then we're going to know it immediately. In cases with a minor problem, we can usually quilt the quilt making the piecing anomaly mostly unnoticeable. Cases where borders are just too ruffly often require some manipulation in order to quilt them.

Let's backtrack for a moment... I had the tremendous pleasure of quilting this gorgeous quilt (made by Robyn P) over the last few weeks. It is a pattern called Little Brown Bird by Margaret Docherty. As you can see by the photo of the right half of the quilt below (laying in my 7' hallway), this is bohemoth! It measured 110"x116"!

Now, before I go into the nuances of this quilt, please know that I have Robyn's blessing to share this story. It is in no way a roast of her piecing abilities. We want others to understand what happened during the quilt's construction, and the implications these errors had on the ease of quilting.
You can tell from the nature of this quilt that Robyn is unusually gifted at complicated applique. She does quilts that I personally would not dream of doing. I have already quilted her Ladies of the Sea a few years ago, and a couple of other applique quilts just earlier this year. She knows her way around needle-turn. I know that the applique will be the star of this quilt.

I made one error when I assessed the quilt as I loaded it. I did not fully lay it out flat to confirm that it is fully symmetrical, and should have been a square. It is massive, and I don't have a flat space this big. I just measured, and assumed it was rectangular. That should have been the first red flag.

I loaded it on my longarm, floating it down the front of the machine as I usually do. I didn't really see anything too fishy. Often if a quilt has "flutter" or "lettuce ruffles" it is obvious immediately. Half of this quilt pooled on the mat at my feet so it was not even visible.

The top 12 or so inches of the quilt stitched just fine. It was not until I rounded the corners that I began to see a serious problem. Let me show you a full shot of this quilt. This was made by Jo Timko, and I just pulled it from the internet.
What I want you to notice are the vertical setting triangles. I am not sure if the pattern is written poorly, or if Robyn just made them this way, BUT the triangles had the long side on the bias. If you starch the heck out of the fabric, you can get away with doing this. I have been known to if I am short of fabric or time. The step I never skip is basting that edge to hold it's intended length. Unstarched bias fabric will stretch significantly. I believe that both of those triangles were easily part of the reason that the borders were 7-8" longer than they should have been. 

Another way borders, especially wide borders, can be attached and "grow" is when they are just strip cut and sewn on. If you don't measure the interior of the quilt in 3 places, then cut the border to the average size, you will almost always over-do the needed length.

When a border is plain fabric, it is simpler to "tweak" this on the fly if it has too much fabric. Often, I take a perfectly perpendicular tuck, baste it down, and then quilt normally. The tuck can be hand stitched down after quilting. Tucks are only needed when there is a significant excess. Frequently, steaming the border or starching it will cause it to pull in enough to lay flat. 

The borders on this quilt had another issue though. They are laden with an absolute TON of applique. Steam and starch would have done nothing, and there was no place to put a pleat without mangling the applique. Further, it became apparent quickly to me that the inner sashing (blue/brown) ALSO had too much fabric and was not going to lay flat either.

This is the point where the quilter wants to cry.

 I played with options like putting tucks to see if the border layed flatter, but it really did not look good.
 As you can see, areas nearer to the triangles were considerably worse.
 The bottom border looked better than the sides, but it still needed manipulation. Had this been a solid fabric border without applique, I could have made this look fine without any magic.
Clearly, though, this was going to require buckets of pixie dust. I got in touch with Robyn so we could make a plan. She needed to be in the loop at this point in the process because I couldn't foresee a plan for the quilting that was not going to muck up her gorgeous applique. Much to my relief, she offered to ship the quilt home and undertake the fix. Another plus...I really didn't want to do this myself.

What I did to help her was to go down the three borders I had not already SID, and I pinched fabric in the two borders. I treated the blue/brown borders as one unit, and the applique wide border as the other. It is typical that the amount of fabric needing to be removed increases as you move further outward on the quilt. By pinching the excess, and pinning I got a good handle on how much needed to be taken out. It was more nearer to the triangles, but I hoped that taking it out as a lump amount would do the trick.
I instructed Robyn to remove the borders, but to leave them attached at the corners. This would keep her from having to redo applique at the corners. There were places with less applique that were good candidates for where extra fabric could be eliminated. She had target amounts to take out of the borders, then to reattach them and "fix" any appliques that needed repair. I won't say this was a small job, but it could have been much worse.

Before I removed it from the frame to ship to CA, I ditched the remainder of the middle part of the quilt - yup, all the center applique blocks. I was very reluctant to leave it just basted for her to do the repair. I have had too many bad experiences removing quilts that have insufficient quilting puckering and pleating. Other longarmers know exactly what I am talking about.

About 3 weeks after I mailed it home, it showed back up at my door! Unfortunately I cannot find a picture to show how it looked, but suffice it to say, the side borders were WAY better. They layed almost flat, as they should. 

It was a big job dealing with totally unquilted 10" borders and a totally stabilized quilt body. I spent a goodly amount of time loading this quilt, basting the borders every 3-4" to stabilize them and ensure that they were going to be flat with the backing. We'd gone to too much trouble to fix the top only to have a backing full of tucks. No thank you. I worked my way down from the top to the bottom. Some of the SID had been removed to facilitate the fix, so that had to be restitched. When I reached the bottom border, I immediately started there, stitching around the appliques. The less I needed to roll this quilt, the better. I then worked back up, ditching. The next photo shows the fully quilted bottom border, but the details were not quilted until ALL of the SID was finished on the entire quilt. Then and only then could the fun, decorative quilting start.

 Most of the showier quilting was stitched in ivory Glide thread. Even though these borders don't leave too  much room for developing designs, I wanted to try to do something. A little crosshatching strategically oriented to the piecing, some feathers and piano keys at the outer edge. The rest of the area is filled with an echo-style meander that is easy to snake around copious amounts of applique.
Here's the left half of the quilt. The feathers are a dominant motif, and seem perfectly chosen for such a traditional quilt. I also like them because they don't take days to stitch. Just mark the spine, stitch the spine, and quilt. The worst part is that these are such huge squares that I was constantly rolling the quilt.
 I know there are plenty of quilters that omit the spines. This is just one of my little pet-peeves. Spines create cleaner looking feathers. It always gives you a landmark to quilt back to...kind of like the place to anchor the feather.
There are 9 of these 4-block applique sections. They are like 20" on point, so HUGE! I like to repeat fills and motifs that have been used because this promotes cohesion within the design. That is why these have a little bit of feathers, a little of the leafy fill (on corners) that is on the triangles and 4 central Hawaiian-style blocks, and more of the echo-meander. The feathered wreath at the center is the quintessential traditional motic, and IMHO, perfect for this place.  
 These applique blocks are so wildly gorgeous. I cannot fathom how long each took, though Robyn said she worked on this for 2 years. It is going on her bed. Because it is applique, I used a wool batting. Had this been smaller, more like a wall-hanging, I might have double batted it. This would have really popped the motifs and applique. For a bed, though, and in southern CA it can really get heavy and hot unless it is micro-quilted more than I did.
 Despite not being overly micro-quilted, I still used about 3-1/2 miles of thread on this puppy! THAT is a LOT of thread. I did get to a point where I wondered if I might run out of my top thread.
 There are a few details quilted in a color other than ivory, but not much shows on the pictures w/o lots of zooming.
 I love these 4 Hawaiian-type applique blocks. Robyn described them as Scherenschnitte - a form of German cut paper art. Because they each had a ridiculous amount of stop and starting just to ditch them, I doubt you'll see this on a quilt of mine anytime soon...LOL!

 There are so many silly and awesome details in the applique and embroidery. Here are the strawberries...Just look at the little gold seeds and the green thingys on the leaves. This type of detail is everywhere on the quilt.
 And these little ribbon flowers...They are all over the borders, as well as the blocks. They have embroidery and beading details. I'm pretty impressed that I only broke 3 or 4 of her beads too!...There are hundreds on the quilt. FYI...piecers whenever possible add beading and crystals after I give you back the finished quilt. They are impossible to do on this quilt and I knew that, so I had to be ultra careful.
 I'll leave you all with a few pics of the back - it is all texture.

Hope you all enjoyed this lovely quilt, and that you have a better understanding of how improperly pieced borders (ie, not measured) can affect what your quilter can ultimately do to your quilt. This was a fun quilt to work on and I hope Robyn fully loves all of her great work!

Thursday, May 17, 2018


This started as a week of edge-to-edge quilts, but on Tuesday I was stymied when I discovered a client sent two large ones with insufficient backings. I quickly regrouped, and dug into the next quilt on the list - this light custom.

The fabrics are reproduction prints and have a ton of texture. That outer border is Di Ford. Anybody who can make quilting show on these fabrics deserves my paycheck and admiration!
 I first looked at my stash of mustard colored threads to see what might work on the outer border, and perhaps the entire quilt. Here are the options...(L-R) Omni, SoFine, YLI Polished poly and Superior's newest 100wt thread MicroQuilter.
I had yet to use the Micro Quilter, but did not want to quilt feathers on all those prints in a heavy thread. Micro Q won out! This post is partly to show what I did, but I think we as quilters can learn as much from the errors of others as we can the successes. This post is a little of both of those.

Now this client is a nice lady, and she sends me lots of wonderfully pieced tops. I don't fault her for the suggestion. I bemoaned to her that I didn't know what I was going to do on the outer border - it is relatively wide. Apparently this quilt is quilted somewhere with feathers up the outer border through the columns, and a line pattern on either side, so she suggested this. Students that have had me in class have heard this before, so I don;t know why it didn't scream through my subconscious. I have this thing about putting showy motifs in places where they don't stand a snowball's chance of actually showing. But...yes, I went ahead and feathered on that crazy column fabric anyways.

The choice of feathering there coupled with the lovely ultra-fine thread I chose was a double whammy of stupidity -- a mistake I won't likely make again soon. Now, don;t get me wrong, this looks fine, what you can see of it. It was like quilting with a blond hair with your eyes though. On the bright side, backtrack errors are more forgivable with super fine thread...which is good because I had no clue where I was backtracking!
I didn't make that same mistake twice, and feather that inner reddish border though!...Learned my lesson the first time. This inner border got 1/2" lines. Use geometric textures in places with dense print.

The center medallion is simple. It has a mottled dot print that would probably not show an interesting filler any better than it shows the stipple. I opted for the easier one! Gold star for me.
Here's the outer border. The feathers and lines don't look bad, but they are definitely non-descript feathers, just a happy little bit of movement there.
 The back is that column fabric in a different colorway. In the right lighting, the quilting is pretty.
Jean has more quilts in the mail heading my way...Cannot wait to see what fun she's sending this time!

Tomorrow I return to a huge applique quilt that took a short side-trip back to California for some border repairs. It will likely be on the frame close to a week. No rest for the weary!!