Friday, October 25, 2019

Creative Quilting

Buckle down, this post is a long one. My kids don't have school today and I truly have nothing better to do (LOL)! I am sure that you have seen these gorgeous Dream Big panels all over blogland and facebookland over the past couple of years. They have been mighty popular, and with good reason. They are extremely attractive. It is the brain-child of designer and photographer-extraordinaire Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero. The design was recently featured by Meg Cox in her quilting newsletter, with a photo featured of a Dream Big that I quilted some time ago. I was interviewed by Mex a couple weeks ago about the panel, as I have done many of these since it came out in late 2017. My first few were used as teaching sample quilts, but many clients derived from those. It is in essence a whole cloth quilt, but one that involves hardly any planning, and much more fun! 
This is the first Dream Big I did, early in March of 2018. The intent was to capture as many of the fills I had put in two of my 2017 self-published books (Dense & Dainty and Beautiful Backgrounds, grid-based fills) into one sample that I could in turn use as I taught these classes. These two books feature WAY more designs than I could ever put on just one of these panels, but it gave a varied flavor of the range of designs a quilter could learn from the books. 
In this post, I'm sharing my tips for quilting this 44" panel including threads, batting, order of stitching, etc. Hopefully it will be enough to get you over your initial fear, and ordering your panel.
The designs on this panel range from simple and conservative to ones with a more modern flair. There are geometric options as well as ones that rely on a premarked grid, thereby making them very symmetrical. As I said in my Beautiful Backgrounds book, the main reason I love grid-based fills as much as I do is because they are so structured, giving freehand quilters such as myself the ability to create designs that can take on the appearance that they were generated with a computerized longarm (which I do not have).

I have sold thousands of books to quilters around the world. I have also taught these fills classes for 4 years now at many locations. They are unique and different, not the typical designs frequently seen. While I don't mind if you imitate the patterns and learn them for your own personal use, please don't take them to teach with :-)
I like to take a simple shape and show ways that this can be varied. Below there are a couple of heart (or are they feather?!?) fills. One of them comes from my Narrow Borders books, as it is quilted in rows. Applying a fill that is in rows or columns as a background fill is a run use of a design. The pattern is also used as a groundcover-style fill, quilting it smaller and in rows that follow the shape of the petal. It's the same basic shape in both petals, but they create a different look.

 Fun patterns to create with grids...puzzle-pieces as well as orange peels.

Shortly after the pink Dream Big was finished with fills, I quilted this orange one. It is such a very pretty orange in real life. This panel has as many of the feather designs that I could fit on it's 30+ petals, all of which originate from my Fearless Feathers book. Like fills, the number of different feathers are innumerable, but I did attempt to include as many as possible. What I will say about every one of the Dream Big panels I have done is that a fill is not repeated on a given panel! I dig deep into my vast arsenal of patterns to make every petal different.
The feather panel is wildly creative. Feathers vary again from very traditional to modern and avant-garde. Some designs are more organic, while others might be suitable on a Christmas quilt. That is what I strive for precisely. Placing feathers that are dissimilar beside one another makes the viewer's eye roam across that quilt rather than just standing still. You immediately recognize that they are different.
I have feathers of all shapes, some using the Formal feather backtracking method and others that use the Longarm feather stitching method. Quilters should learn both because it widens the field of possible designs that can be quilted.
 Seriously...who doesn't just LOVE feathers?!?

Combining feathers with areas of crosshatching, whether straight or curved, creates a lovely diversion for the eyes.
Fearless Feathers illustrates all of the many styles of feather fronds shown in these photos as well as the wide variety of spines to choose from. Creating texture with feathers need not be boring, ever!

As I share my photos of other Dream Big panels I have done for clients, I will share other insights and questions I have received from quilters over the last 2+ years about the quilting of the panels.
They are only 44" square, assuming you don't enlarge with borders, so quite suitable for both long arm quilters as well as domestic machine quilters. What I find best, because of they design is to initiate the quilting at the flower's center. The petals all radiate outward. Similarly, the colors graduate outward too, so when thread changes are necessary it helps to be quilting all petals of a desired color. Where am I going with this...Begin the project by basting (1/2 to 1" stitch) a 4"x 4" grid across the entire flower. This is dense enough to stabilize the piece, while allowing you to start at the center.

Always, Always ALWAYS (not trying to be over-emphatic) remove the basting stitches (top and bobbin) in the area that you are going to quilt, leaving them in the surrounding petals, as shown below. Often dense fills are placed in the petals, making removal of basting stitches a bit of a beastly exercise if they are removed later. I tell students that if they enjoy and appreciate removing small stitches with tweasers, then leave the basting in. If not (and typically they all agree they are in this camp), then remove basting initially. We all do it wrong once, but rarely twice :-)
When you start this quilt at the center, much of the middle can be quilted without rolling the quilt OR without changing thread color. I often fill the flower's center with a patch of pebbles before echoing the shape of the innermost small petals. Add veins to the small petals if you like. I have done them both ways.
While I absolutely love the coloration of this aqua flower, it is one of the harder to quilt if you like to mark (which I do). The white marking chalk only shows in the outermost areas, and the blue water-soluble pens hardly show at all. I resorted to the purple air erasable pens when I needed to mark.

What do you mark?...Sometimes I mark parts of the petals before they are outlined. This is because there are locations on petals that seem to blend into the next petal. When the longarm/hopping foot is on top of petals, visibility is further reduced. Marking is not a crutch; it helps improve the quality of what is being quilted. Some of the designs require a grid or lined separations. The usual Pounce chalk only shows on the darker areas of the panels, making marking with one type of pen necessary. My rule of thumb is that if I can eye-ball it without marking, I will, but if not then mark. Marking is always easier than removing stitches.

 Architectural patterns like the bricks stitch more reliably if the tiers are marked.
Every one of the Dream Big panels I have done has been double batted. I routinely encounter quilters that have never used more than one batting. The best suggestion I can give as rationale for why to double batt is this. Do you love and appreciate the texture of the designs? Then add a second batting. My go-to bottom layer is Hobbs 80/20 (unless a client supplies or request something different). The top or second layer is a wool. I use either Hobbs Tuscany wool or Quilter's Dream wool, though there are a couple others also available. The cotton batting gives the quilt weight and structure, while the wool provides the loft. Wool batting does not have memory. By this statement I mean this - When cotton is compressed, flattened, folded, etc it has memory in that the creases remain. Quilts from 50-100 years ago had cotton batting, and they are flatter than flat now. They have been permanently compressed. Wool does not have the memory. It is often used in applique quilts because it will retain its poof, thereby keeping the appliques lofty. Wool is a very lightweight batting in comparison to the cotton. A double batted quilt with significant quilting, as these panels have, is still a rather thin quilt. It is slightly thicker than a single-batted quilt, but because it's destined to be a wall decoration who cares?! Double-batting also makes attaining good tension that much simpler.

I got to do an orange flower for a client last year. It was quilted mostly with fills. I did throw in a few feathers on some petals though.
The more I look through these old photos of the fills quilted, the more the patterns seem to run together. Just when you think that all fills are the same, I see a design I had not yet used. That just shows how much variety there really is in quilting!
 I love how that bamboo pattern elongates the petal. Certain designs as well as certain orientations of patterns do that.

Here's a colorway I just love. The center radiates from the purple. It's particularly challenging to mark, but stunning to look at. It's done with feathers and fills both. One thing to note is that many of the fills can be rather time-consuming. The feathers, on the other hand, tend to be where I make up time on a quilt.
There are a few different designs on this quilt. I have had the intent of writing a follow-up book to the two fills books, but time and life always have gotten in the way! Someday...
 Lots of modern here...That is not my usual inclination, but it juxtaposes the flower nicely.

The purple client quilt was particularly daunting initially because the client sent a very solid lavender backing fabric. In the end, though, it was just gorgeous because all what the front of the quilt hid for quilting, the back clearly showed!

Another pink quilt, this time it was for a client.
Most of my Dream Big quilts were quilted with about 4-5 colors of thread. I change color as the fabric color graduates from lighter to darker. I will often use a color that shows slightly on the fabric too. The background of this fabric has an inherent texture to it, so if you try to perfectly match the thread to the cloth, it is extremely challenging to see what you are doing.
I prefer to use 40wt thread on these too. It's the heaviest thread I routinely run on my long arm. Threads finer than this tend to blend away to nothing, making the effort you give to quilting these patterns useless as they won't be visible. While on a particularly different quilt some of the patterns make great backfills which could just blend into the background, this is not a place where having them blend away is desired.
 (I love this photo...swoon!) The viney petal and the apple core design are pleasantly different.
There are a multitude of 40wt threads on the market ranging from cotton to polyester. My Go-to threads include Glide, YLI Polished Poly and Superior's Magnifico. They all quilt fairly compatibly, and they are all very close to the same thickness (yes, friends, all 40wt threads will not feel or tension identically), so they tension similarly. I happen to have some colors in one type of thread, and others in the others, so I mix and match brand as needed to get the desired color. In the bobbin, I best-color-match with Superior's Bottomline bobbins. These are 60wt because I prefer a finer thread on the backside.
If you have looked at enough of these photos, you notice that there are a number of ways that the petals can be framed out. The more elaborate the frame, the more prominence you will bring to the petal. What I teach in classes is this. A single line of stitching is useless. It cannot show whatsoever. Two lines of quilting separated by at least 1/4" will show, only minimally. If you truly want prominence, Make your raised channel (the distance between the stitched lines 3/8" to 1/2", OR make it two or more raised channels. Some of the petals have raised channels, and then areas where a channel has been filled with such things as pebbles, ribbon candy or zig-zags, etc. Have fun with it. Larger petals obviously can house more "stuff" and details. Sometimes more details were reserved for my personal Dream Big panels, where time and money were not issues.

Here are the last couple of these flower panels for this post. They do start to get redundant (he he) after a while. I did want readers to get a sense of the many colors they come in and the multitude of unique patterns you can quilt on them.

This one and the next were both done for my client Teddie. One is her's and the other was a gift. Both are this blue.
It is a stunning, almost glowing flower. But...remember what I said about marking? This particular panel's colors negate use of the blue and purple pens. Chalk is about the only tool I could use. In the end, that is not a huge sacrifice, but it can drive you towards using different fills that rely less on marking.
 I like to use Pounce to premark grids, which works well on this color...but not so well on the pastels.

One of these panels was modified to have a couple of borders to help frame the flower. It was a very pretty effect. This quilt also had a solid backing to show the lovely patterns.

 As I am coming up with designs, I think about broad categorizations like things that are architectural (fences, bricks, gears, etc) or things that are organic (wind, water, flowers, etc) or motifs that can be quilted in linear channels. There are a near infinite number of possibilities, but it helps me to create lists of ideas to explore within each subcategory. Within gears, there are a number of ways to quilt a gear (rounded teeth, pointy teeth, etc).

Where can you get this panel?...

There are probably lots of places. I'd search first with a google search for "Hoffman Dream Big". Last year I entered photos of one of mine that a quilt shop was hosting. It actually won their contest (and I won something like 5 more panels!). This shop is My Favorite Quilt Store. A quick search revealed many, many other places too, probably even your local store. What I cannot say is whether Hoffman is bringing out any new colorways after quilt market this week or not. Either way, there are at least a couple dozen colors to choose from.

If you have any questions about these panels that I didn't answer, please either post your question or shoot me an email. If you do post a question, make sure that a contact email is included if you desire a reply. Many bloggers seem to still be "blogger no-reply" so I never can share the answer to their question.
To all of you who love to repin photos to Pinterest, all of the ones in this post are fair to post. I am happy to have them out there if you choose to pin them.

The last thing I will leave you with is where you can get your copy of my books, should you like full instructions on nearly every pattern shown on the petals of this post. The are sold exclusively on my website The two green books are the "fills" books, and the others are Fearless Feathers and Narrow Border Big Design. For those that purchase the full set, I will discount the purchase 10% until next Friday (discount taken in Paypal by me, refunded to you when I print the label).
All four books are anywhere from 90-99 pages, full color with over 100 photos and illustrations per book. Designs are described, shown with a quilted sample and a color-coded numbered illustration.

Quilt on, and feel free to share your Dream Big with me!