Happy New Year! Time for a fresh start!
I know I used the photo, above, last year and the year before that, but it makes me smile and feel good to see a fresh spunky little kitten to help us get going for 2009. Did you survive the holidays? Ready to hunker down and get some quilting done now before spring quilt shows and events, guild retreats and challenges? If you've never entered something in a show, this is the year to try. It will certainly be exciting and definitely improve your work. Having that goal of entering it in shows definitely keeps you on your toes! It keeps your cats on their toes too.
Following marked designs: When you are quilting it is not necessary at all times to stay on the line of a marked design. In fact, many times I alter the design either on purpose or accidentally as I quilt it. Don't worry if the feathers on the left of the vase aren't exactly like the ones on the other side. That's what makes quilting designs unique and unusual - they shouldn't look like they were spit from computers. My feathers when I quilt them may be way different from the marked line, but if they look graceful and lovely, that's great. Even better than the marked ones. An exception to this is straight lines such as grids, diagonal lines, etc. They must be "on the line" or the final result will be very new age. Think of the marked line as a guide only for curvy designs. It is much easier to quilt that way, rather than trying to keep the needle and every single stitch right on that line. The line will be removed leaving the design just where you wanted it and smooth and nice. Also, learn to look ahead of the needle, especially when free motion quilting a marked straight line. Think of it as the highway, and you are the car - look down the road ahead of you.
After the quilting is done, many times before binding it is helpful to draw or ease in the top and bottom edges of your quilt as these are the ends that will stretch a bit due to the cross-grain of the backing fabric.Compare their measurements with the sides and if they are larger, you may need to take this step. I try to measure the side dimensions about 8-12" in from the raw edges, rather than right at the stretchy outer edge. If necessary to "draw in" a stretched edge, take short lines (4 - 5") of basting stitches at the very edge through all 3 layers and gently pull on each section of bastingem in a bit until the correct measurement is reached--don't gather or ruffle them! It really helps stabilize the edges for binding. This is the one time I recommend a thread like Dual Duty or poly, as it won't break. Sometimes it's only an inch or even 1/4 of an inch, but it makes a big difference.
If your machine sits down in a cabinet/table with a plexiglas surround, get it positioned correctly with the surround in. Then remove the surround and use a pigma pen to draw "corners" on the base of the cabinet around the corners of the machine where it sits. Then every time it is lifted or removed from the cabinet, you can easily place it exactly where it needs to go for the surround to slide in perfectly.
If the tension goes whacko suddenly, it could be because the thread is twisted around the needle. Take it out and re-thread. If the presser foot is up and you pull the thread, it should come through very freely. The tension is applied when the foot is down. If it feels very tight with the foot up, something isn't threaded correctly, and a twisted thread around the eye of the needle just may be the culprit.
Also, thread can twist around the spindle the thread sits on. Check this carefully. It can cause the thread to break or the needle to break while you are sewing/quilting. Sometimes the thread can get caught on a burr on the spool itself, or even that little notch where you secure the thread end. Always check the thread pathway before stepping on the gas. You will save hours of frustration and many broken needles. In fact, the smooth delivery of the thread is probably one of the biggest problems quilters have - if it isn't working perfectly, you have many stops and starts and fixes, and frustration builds.
The Hera marker works wonderfully to help make nice sharp creases in your computer-made greeting cards. It really mashes down heavy card stock or photo paper into a nice crease, and doesn't seem to harm the paper. I also use it to clean counter tops and sinks with hard water deposits. Soak in vinegar, and then use the Hera to scrape clean. Yes, we have terrible water.
Stippling is addictive. However, try some new backgrounds! I discovered new favorites (see my book: Quilt Savvy: Gaudynski's Machine Quilting Guidebook) and now use stippling only when it is functionally the best choice. I think we are tired of acres of stippling on quilts. While I was at Houston in November '06 it was my pleasure to show many quilters my use of Bouncing Bananas on my quilt there. Great background texture, plus I used a slightly deeper thread than that of the main designs and it gave the background depth. Since then I have devised some new designs for backgrounds, or if quilted larger, as designs on their own. It's fun to find new things to quilt to keep us interested in quilting and our quilts interesting visually.
I store my quilts in my walk-in closet (door always open for air circulation) on the upper shelves and take them down every now and then and re-fold them. Cover with an old sheet or even fabric, wrong side out, to keep the dust off. Plastic will discolor fabric, and cause all kinds of problems. Line your shelves with muslin too and wash every now and then so mildew doesn't grow. Use hot water and 1 c. white vinegar in the wash water. Of course, I have pre-washed my fabrics in hot soapy water so I know I can safely launder the quilt this way. If you are unsure, use cool or tepid water and be very careful. For antitque quilts, check with a quilt conservator or someone who is knowledgable about vintage textiles. Washing may be the very last thing you should consider.
I know many tell you to play music while you machine quilt, but it blocks out critical sewing machine noises. As you get experienced in machine quilting, the slightest noise differences from "usual" will alert you to something wrong, a dull needle, a burr, a machine that needs oiling, thread that is sticking somewhere, etc. I do play music but softly so I can still listen to the "music" of my machine. If my classes in machine quilting cease to fill, I can go on the road doing sewing machine impressions - all their sounds, from my treadle, the first Singer in 1969, and my various Berninas. Not to mention all the sounds of the machines I use in classes.
Can't keep up with all the beautiful new fabric in the shops and catalogs and internet?? Use some for backing--splurge! The large scale prints like toile work especially well. Watch our for cheapie fabrics that have dyes that make it difficult to move the quilt. I always use good quality quilt fabric for backings, but not the highest thread count, like the batiks, etc. If you see fabric you love and might want for a backing, get a neutral color like khaki or caramel. Even beige is good. I usually avoid very darks because they attract so much lint, fuzz, and cat hair, but if I did use a black or navy or dark burgundy, I would probably use a neutral taupe for the bobbin thread. Much easier to get a nice stitch and balanced tension. Plus, the lighter thread will show up on the back, making for a beautiful display on the "other" side of the quilt. Watch those knots though, and get clean stops and starts so everything looks beautiful on both sides of the quilt.
Sometimes you are doing everything right in machine stippling but the foot you use is holding you back. There are some machines/feet I absolutely cannot get good results with, so this may be your problem. Experiment! See what is available for your machine. Try stippling on your friend's machine and see if the difference helps. I have found that the #24 foot for my Bernina 730 is fabulous, made a world of difference from the #9 or #29. And of course I decrease the pressure on the foot with the dial on the side of the machine to accomodate thicker batts or trapunto. Older Berninas might do well with the plastic #29 foot, with the "toe" opened or cut out. Your dealer can do this or you can do it with many cutting implements. All of the dials and tools your machine provides are for you to use so you can get the best result from your machine. Don't be afraid of them. Know what they do and how to use them.
Natural unscented, nothing-added clay cat litter is great for slippery sidewalks, non-toxic, inexpensive, and bio-degradable. Won't kill the grass or stain your shoes. Sweep it away in the spring. Keep a rug at the door for track-ins.
Try my recipe for spray starch for all your pressing/piecing needs. Produces a super flat stable quilt: Dissolve a half or one teaspoon of regular Argo cornstarch (in your cupboard probably) in a few tablespoons of cold water in a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup/pitcher. Boil 1 cup of water and stir into the cornstarch, stirring constantly. Add enough cool water to make 2 cups total of the mixture. It will thicken slightly and turn from chalk white to translucent. Let cool and use in a pump spray bottle. Shake it every time you spray. You may have to dilute it a little if it is too thick. Lasts a week or so, as there are no preservatives, no chemicals, no nothing that harms us or the environment, and its practically free, except for the spray bottle.
If you get build-up of starch on your iron, wipe it off (when iron is cool) with a rough terry towel soaked in white vinegar. It will come clean beautifully. I use a length of muslin to cover my ironing board and wash it frequently. One student suggested putting the starch in an old pump hairspray bottle for a fine mist. I like the sprayers from the beauty section in the drugstore - very fine mist.
Do not just practice, practice, practice! I never recommend it, it is too boring and non-productive and you may just be practicing the wrong thing over and over. Make quilts! Surely you can piece up a "learner" quilt top, lap size, to learn to improve your machine quilting. If you use all the components like cotton or wool batt and wash when done, your quilt will forgive your beginner mistakes and look wonderful. If it has setting squares where you can quilt the same design many times, by the end of the quilt you will be very good at that design, and other designs will be much easier because of all your experience. I never practiced, I made quilts, and they will show you my progress from beginner to where I am today. I do "warm up" a bit before I begin a new design or even something like background work just to get in the zone and loosen up. If you quilt every day, you hardly need any warm-up time at all each day. Be sure and remember to clean out the lint from the lower part of your machine by the bobbin every day. I put a drop of machine oil on the hook part and swab off any excess with a Q-tip after I have removed the lint. It keeps my machine humming, and I do take it in for complete internal servicing as recommended.
Try adding some of your own ideas to quilts in the quilting designs--trace your children's hands, write the year you made the quilt, sketch and quilt a picture (simple!) of your house. Every thing the quilters did 100 years + ago is still valid and makes for our own folk art. You will find it amazing that even as a beginner you can quilt your signature quite easily. Then try other words and get the rhythm of machine quilting without all the anxiety. Your brain knows what you want it to do when you write your name and it makes free motion so much easier.
Many of you who have machines with knee lifts are told to use your left foot on the foot control even if you are right-handed. I have found that I quilt 100% better if I use my right foot on the machine's foot control. It's like asking you to write with your left hand if you are right-handed. Try it! I take out the knee lift when I am quilting so there is no chance of accidentally bumping it during quilting and raising the presser foot.
If your free-motion straight lines, such as in grids, are waving and not straight, many times it isn't that you can't stitch a straight line free motion, it's due to the weight and drag of the quilt. Here again, it's best if you have your machine bed level with the surrounding table so there isn't nearly as much pull on it. Straight lines are possible and can be straight, but they are a little more difficult than a gently curving line. Another option is to mark a straight line but as you quilt, "wave" gently to the left and right of the marks. It is a beautiful option and is so much easier to do than lines and creates subtle interest. It might be more appropriate too for the style of your quilt or fabric.
Keep quilting! Your work gets better every day. Best wishes for 2009!
© 2009 Diane Gaudynski