What does rusty quilting look like? For me, it looks like wavy lines, flat curves, terrible feathers, and lack of confidence in executing designs.
Recovering this summer from total hip replacement surgery in June, I was not able to stand at the longarm and quilt for many weeks. As a result, my hand guided longarm quilting skills have gotten a rusty. I first noticed this (rust) when doing a quilt show. The longarm systems were all set up and someone wanted me to demonstrate how to use a template and make more of it than the shape. Stitching around the template was no problem, but my free form feathers were awful. Not being able to quilt on a regular basis really showed. I had become a rusty quilter!
Recently a friend brought two quilts for me to work on. To be honest, I was afraid of one of the quilts. It is only 32 inches square, but has a lot of design opportunities. Starting with a mariners compass in the middle, three small paper pieced blocks, and every border different, this little quilt from a round robin challenge presented me with quite a challenge for custom quilting. Not only did I have to dream up different designs, but then I had to quilt them. The rust had to go!
Getting rid of the quilting rust is the same as first learning longarm quilting skills. Thankfully muscle memory helped, I just need practice. I put a large practice piece on the frame and spent most of a day practicing arcs, loops, stars, curves and points, swirls, straight lines, combinations of designs and more. I got out my resource books and looked for filler designs to practice, worked with templates, stitched feathers, and as the day wore on, I felt more confident and less intimidated by that little quilt. When the practice piece was totally filled up I declared now or never.
I used a number of tricks from the longarm quilters bag, templates for defining shapes, continuous curves, and ditch stitching, free motion feathers, swirls and emphasizing the fabric pattern. With all of the detail on this little quilt it took a long time, but it certainly was a very good project to help me get back into quilting again. I am not sure what Norma will name this quilt, but to me it looks like a bowl of summer fruits – cool, luscious, and lovely.
I can’t say with any certainty, but am told that medically a person will loose 20% of their muscle ability in just one week if not able to move. If you translate that to longarm quilting, the 10-12 weeks of no hand guided quilting put me in the negative numbers.
Regardless of whether you have gone that long without quilting or only a few weeks, more than likely your skills have diminished. My recommendation would be to always keep a practice piece around that you can easily put on the frame to brush up on your skills. And, if still unsure, before quilting a special quilt, spend time quilting a comfort or charity quilt. They are a great way to productively work on your skills, build or refresh muscle memory, and try new techniques.