Going Social

If you think back ten or more years, we weren’t very social.  Yes, we had email, but that was about it.  Facebook was an infant, there was no Snap chat, no Pinterest, no YouTube, no Instagram, and what about Yahoo groups and texting?  How did we get along?

Good and Bad

With these “advances” in technology we are able to communicate almost instantly.  If social media delightful quilting and sewingwe want to know something, we can easily Google on the internet, or post a question on a Yahoo or Facebook group.  Almost everyone has an opinion.  It is great to get feedback, pats on he back for our awesome posts, and find answers.  But, is everything out in cyber space reliable?  And, what about the time?  How much time is “social” stealing from us every day.  How much time is texting our friends with meaningless and random thoughts taking from our life?  Would we spend that much time talking on a land line phone every day?

The “Old” Days

I come from a generation of rotary phones.  In fact, my grandparents didn’t even have a phone, or even electricity for many years.  Yes, they were progressive and did get those as soon as they were available in the country, about 1938.  They farmed and when electric became available, it was a wonderful day when they could milk the cows with a milking machine and not by hand any more.

rotary phone delightful quilting and sewing

Rotary phone of the 1960’s.

When I was in college I met my future husband, Ron, at a farm auction.  He had just graduated from another college and was working on the family farm.  We dated once every other weekend (he only lived 30 miles away), he never called me except maybe two times, but we did write letters (stamps cost 5 cents).  Phone calls were out of the question, it was long distance which cost extra, although not nearly as much as what most cell phone plans cost today.  Phone calls were for business, emergencies, quickly pass along important information, but for our families, never just for talking.  In fact, when I was a kid we had a crank phone and our

crank phone delightful quilting and sewing

Crank phone of the 1950’s.

phone line was a party line with four other homes on the same line.  You had to pick up the phone carefully to see if anyone else was talking before cranking the phone to call the operator.  Yes, that also meant you could listen to someone else’s conversation.  So, word to the wise, be careful what you said on the phone as the neighborhood gossip might be listening.

Times Have Changed!

social media delightful quilting and sewing

Social media channels.

Today we have instant communication with our cell phones and texts and access to all kinds of information without going to the library, looking through a card catalog, and searching the stacks.  Today’s technology all comes with a price.  If we aren’t careful, it can steal our time, a lot of time.  And, the privacy we once enjoyed in our lives we no longer seem to covet as we post everything from our adventures, brushing our teeth, and family gatherings to what’s for dinner on Facebook and other social media.

One of the most challenging things with such easy access to information is sorting fact from fiction, weeding out bad advice from good advice.  Everything posted on social media, YouTube, Yahoo, and found in Google searches is not he best information.  In fact, there may be a lot of misinformation.  From medical information to fixing the refrigerator, or solving a longarm quilting problem, there is good information and there is bad information.

Know The Source

Just like years ago when we recognized reliable sources in the library, it is important to check the source online.  Today, everyone has an opinion, and many think they are experts, but they are not.  Before accepting and using advice offered online, check out who is making the post.  Questions to ask about the post:

  1. Who placed the post?  Are they an expert in the field or respected author on the subject?  What is their background, education, or training relating to the information.
  2. Can the information be substantiated in other posts or other websites?
  3. Does the information violate well documented principles, standard accepted practices, or break the law?
  4. Will the information be a compromise that might not even work?
  5. Does it sound logical, practical, or seem odd, outlandish, or ridiculous?

Longarm Application and Online Advice

As a Nolting longarm dealer that has been factory trained, dealer for two computer guided systems, and an author of a book for longarm guilting with Nolting machines, “Guide to Quilting with Your Nolting,” I am amazed at the poor, but well intentioned, suggestions relating to longarm quilting offered on social media channels.  Just because some weird thing happened to “solve” a problem doesn’t mean it is the correct solution.  Believe me, I have heard of some very interesting solutions, even using water bottles to take care of fullness on a loaded quilt.  Rarely do these suggestions address the root cause of the problem.  There are better solutions and solving or addressing the root issue is always the best.

Whether seeking info from a friend, YouTube, Yahoo group, Facebook, or any other social media source, sift the information well.  Make sure it comes from a reliable source, one that has both experience and knowledge, and that it addresses the root problem and isn’t a bandage.

 

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It Isn’t Always What It Seems

Have you ever jumped to a conclusion only to later, sometimes much later, discover your conclusion was very wrong?

Years ago I learned a valuable lesson relating to this that I have tried to apply in most situations, but recently forgetting to be careful in jumping to conclusion I spent needless time and effort going in the wrong direction.

About the Lesson I Learned

Years ago early in the year of my first year of teaching 7th grade science, I had a boy who was constantly causing an undercurrent of a disruption in class by leaning over to talk with first one neighbor, then another and another.  This happened nearly every day in spite of my warnings.  Finally I had enough of it and sternly told him to see me after class.  By the time the class ended he was in tears.  Trying to understand why he didn’t comply with my “no talking in class” rule, through tears he told me he was only trying to find out what I had written on the board. He simply could not see the board clearly and was trying to keep up with the class notes.  At this point I felt terrible for him.  I had pegged him as a trouble maker, but he was only trying to keep up.

Immediately he was assigned to a front row seat.  I contacted the school nurse to perform an eye test, and I also called his mother to let her know what had happened and that he probably would need a professional eye exam.  I was sure his situation and behavior in other classes was probably the same.  About a week later he showed up with glasses and he became a very good student.  What a lesson for a new teacher to learn about never assuming what you think based on appearances, but to get to the root cause so that there could be a positive outcome.

Summer Adventures and Wrong Assumptions

This past summer was hot and humid.  Had I been more diligent in trouble shooting these issue, I could have spent more time enjoying my sewing and quilting instead of being frustrated.

Experience #1 – My Home Sewing Machine

star blocks delightful quilting and sewing

Star blocks made from Alaskan theme fabric.

Because of the heat, I set up my travel sewing machine in our air conditioned first floor.  For a couple of hours on several days I happily stitched patches together making sub-units for star blocks.  At first the stitching was OK, but then seemed to erode.  The machine just didn’t seem to work as well.  The patches were getting caught under the presser foot, sometimes being pushed down in the needle hole.  It couldn’t be the humidity, that was taken care of by the AC unit.  I thought it must be the machine.  It is not an expensive machine, just one for travel.  I began thinking that I had made a poor purchase decision and because it wasn’t a top of the line machine, it was failing already and wasn’t going to last.

One afternoon after discovering a LOT of lint impacted in the feed dogs of my very nice machine, I decided to clean it.  I also discovered lint below and behind the hook and in bobbin area.  Working with cotton fabric, cotton thread, and quilts is a linty job.  I cleaned, oiled, and replaced the needle.  Since I was cleaning that one, I decided to take a look at my travel machine.  Very little lint, but I cleaned anyway, oiled where needed, and replaced the needle.

The next day when I worked on the star block sub-units using the travel machine, I was totally surprised.  The machine stitched beautifully.  You would think I would have thought to change the needle at the first sign of stitching problems, but I didn’t.  Yes, such a simple thing as a new, sharp needle made all the difference.  A good lesson refreshed in my mind.  Next time at the first sign of stitching problems, I will be changing the needle first.

Experience #2  – My Longarm Quilting Machine

As a Nolting longarm dealer, both my husband and I are factory trained to make some repairs on Nolting Longarm machines, as well as make adjustments, such as timing the machine.

Awhile back I began having trouble with the screw that holds the needle in the longarm and discovered that the threads in the needle bar had gotten stripped.  After talking with Nolting tech, we decided to replace the needle bar.  This is not difficult to do.  The needle plate comes off and the hook assembly is removed so that the old needle bar can be removed pulling it down and out through the open space in the throat of the machine.   Replacing he needle bar is the opposite procedure with timing the machine the final step.  When replacing the throat plate we noticed a little needle prick and smoothed that off, too.

I have timed many machines over the years.  Once you get the feel for it, it isn’t difficult.

damaged throat plates delightful quilting and sewing

Damaged throat plates – pricks and burrs from needle flex.

This day it did not go as well.  Every time I tried stitching after adjusting the timing, the thread would break. Several times I adjusted with the same results.  Finally my husband suggested replacing the throat plate with a new one.  Yes, something I should have through of right away, but didn’t.  Guess what?  It stitched perfectly.  My timing was perfect and not causing the thread breakage. Someplace in the needle hole of the throat place there was a sharp spot or burr that was catching the thread and causing it to break.  Again, a fresh reminder to me that it isn’t always what it seems to be.

Problem Solving

  1. Take a good look at the problem.
  2. Think about the possible causes.
  3. Don’t jump to a conclusion.
  4. Check out each of the possibilities starting with the most likely and easiest to fix, like changing the needle or replacing the throat plate.
  5. If the easiest fix doesn’t work, move on to the next possibility in the list until the solution is found.

Having an organized system for looking at a problem and checking out each possibility systematically can save time and long hours of frustration.  Because these situations are frustrating anyway and taking us away from what we want to do, we must step back, clear our thoughts, and look at the issue with fresh “eyes” and use systematic problem solving techniques.

For help trouble shooting longarm problems, “Guide to Quilting with Your Nolting” is available for Nolting longarm owners and may be an excellent resource for other longarm brands.  The book includes a trouble shooting chart with possible solutions and references pages in the books for help.

 

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It’s the Weather

rain clipartI know it sounds like a lame excuse because, regardless of what it is, the weather gets blamed for many things.  “My shoulder hurts every time it rains.”  “My hair gets frizzy when it is humid.”  “Mom, I failed my test.  It was too hot to think!”

Can the Weather Be Blamed for Poor Longarm Stitch Quality?

While there may be some justification and truth to the above statements, to blame poor stitch quality, tension problems, and the machine “doesn’t like me today,” on the weather does sound like a lame excuse.  But, not so fast.  Before we dismiss this as a lame excuse, let’s examine the facts and the science behind it.

A few weeks ago one of our longarm customers contacted me by email wanting help with her Nolting Pro machine.  It normally stitched beautifully without any problems with stitch quality and tension, but had developed problems.  The tension could not be adjusted satisfactorily, and once adjusted, it didn’t stay and within a few inches was bad again.  I replied with the standard list of things to try such as, change the needle, check the thread path, make sure the bobbin area is clean and oiled.  Along with a few other suggestions, Sue did her best, but after several days of trying, nothing worked and we scheduled a time to go check out her “Miss Daisy.”

terrible quilt tension

Really terrible tension!

We arrived on a warm humid afternoon and went to her beautiful new studio.  Armed with all of the tools we might need we checked the tension assembly and decided that the tension spring seemed a little weak and might need adjusting or replacing.  Sue had already purchased a few replacement parts and had one on hand (we had more in our spare parts), so we decided to replace the tension spring.  This repair is easy to do and instructions are found in our book, Guide to Quilting with Your Nolting.  The repair, however, did not completely solve the problem.  Because she complained of a bigger tension problem stitching in one direction, we had her demonstrate.  Immediately I knew it was needle flex, so we also adjusted the timing.  Although there was some improvement, neither of these fixes solved the problem tension issues.  At that point we began talking about the weather.

About the time Sue’s problems started, the weather turned quite hot and humid, and there was a heavy rainfall which even seeped into their basement.  The studio is not in the basement, however, it is in a converted garage.  The floor is raised above the original ground level floor, but in years past, the garage floor would take on moisture.  Having done all we could do and after giving Miss Daisy a checkup, we knew that mechanically she was perfect.  Our prescription was to purchase a dehumidifier.

As Paul Harvey would say, “The Rest of The Story”

We do not like leaving a customer with an unsolved issue because it looks like we haven’t done our job.  But, in this case, there was nothing more we could do.  A few days later Sue purchased a dehumidifier.  She called me about three days after starting the dehumidifier running to give me a thumbs-up report.  She was back to quilting and Miss Daisy was working perfectly without making any adjustments.  In fact, the dehumidifier bin had filled several times and she dumped many, many quarts of water pulled out of the air in her studio.  The humidity in the studio the day she started running the dehumidifier was 78% and was now down to about 50%.  The best news, of course, was that she was back to quilting without any problems, without making any adjustments, and could finally work on her customer’s quiet.

Other Similar Experiences

This was not the first time the humidity has been a problem.  Several years ago one of our Canadian customers contacted me with a similar list of complaints.  Yesterday it quilted perfectly, today, nothing but tension problems.  Although she did have a dehumidifier in her basement studio, her husband had turned it off to save on the electric.  They had been having a spell of very hot, humid weather.  I recommended that the dehumidifier be turned back on.  She did and  emailed me several days later that her Nolting machine was stitching perfectly again.

I have also experienced similar issues.  Prior to having my nice studio, my studio was located in the second floor of our Cape Cod house.  There was very little ventilation and it gets quite hot.  Summers here can be humid, too.  On a number of occasions I simply had to quit quilting for awhile until the weather changed.  Nothing I did mechanically or with adjustments corrected the tension problems.  When the weather became more normal, cooler and much less humid, I could go back to quilting with no problem.  (solving other tension problems)

The Science Behind This Type of Tension Problem

Let’s talk about the science now.  Quilts are made of cotton fabric, both the top and the backing.  Often the batting is cotton or a blend of cotton and poly, and very often the thread is cotton.  Cotton is a natural fiber and does take on moisture.  Think of what happens when you are wearing a cotton t-shirt when you are working outside on a hot, humid day.  The t-shirt gets wet from perspiration.  If you hang your laundry outside on a humid day, you will also realize it takes a very long time for it to dry.  The facts are that cotton can take on and hold 40% its weight in water.

OK, but the quilt isn’t wet, or is it?  Science lesson #1.  (I was a high school science teacher – sorry)  Things (like moisture) always move from where there is more of it (the air with high humidity) to where there is less of it (the quilt, batting, thread).  Remember studying osmosis in biology?  Well, probably not.  Never the less, although not osmosis, this is a similar physical phenomena that is happening.  And, even if you are using poly thread, the moisture taken on by the quilt sandwich causes uneven drag on the thread resulting in tension issues.

Science lesson #2.  This transfer (of moisture) will continue to take place until equilibrium is met.  Eventually both the air and quilt would be the same humidity.  This is not likely to happen as it would take a very long time because the body of air is so much larger than the quilt.  However, as long as the quilt is in the humid environment, there will be a subtle increase in the moisture in the quilt sandwich which cause adverse affects on stitch quality.  The illustration below shows how with time the particles in the left side will migrate to the right side until equilibrium is reached with he same number of particles in both sides.

Science lesson #3.  Warm air holds more moisture than cooler air.  As a result, when the temps go up in the summer, that air will be able to hold more moisture.  The relative humidity of 78% at 90 degrees holds much more moisture than the relative humidity of 78% at 70 degrees.  Stated another way, at 90 degrees and 78% humidity, the air is holding 78% or what it could at that temperature.  The key phrase is “at that temperature.”  The higher the temperature, the more moisture it can hold making hot, humid summer days very uncomfortable. The higher the actual level of moisture in the air (because of higher temp) the more moisture transferred to the quilt sandwich.

Solutions to the problem

  1. Forget quilting when the weather is hot and humid, or even normal temperature, but humid.  It is the changing  weather, upper trending temps and humidity that are the problem.
  2. Run the air conditioning making sure it is also dehumidifying the air.
  3. Get a dehumidifier and run it during humid weather.  We always recommend using a dehumidifier in a basement studio.  Basements, regardless of how well they are made will usually be higher humidity.

Conclusion

heat and humidity

If you are uncomfortable with heat and humidity, likely your quiet sandwich is too!!!

Yes, it can be the weather.  Higher humidity conditions can cause poor stitch quality and tension issues.  The tech staff at Nolting Longarm are now realizing that humidity can be a contributing factor.  If you are uncomfortable because of the weather, more than likely your quiet sandwich is too.   As frustrating as it seems, once the quilt sandwich takes on moisture, even though it doesn’t feel wet, quilting may not work and you will simply be frustrated because nothing you do will solve the poor stitch quality.  My best suggestion is to just walk away.  Get a dehumidifier going to pull the excess moisture out of the air, the quilt sandwich and thread.  When the humidity levels return to normal in the studio and quilt, go back to quilting.  Think of the time off from quilting as a mini vacation.  You now have time to go to the beach, visit the museum or park, or, piece another quilt.

 

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Call For Entries – More Than A Ribbon

As we enter a new year, 2017, you may be thinking ahead to quilt shows this year and entering one or more of your quilts.  In fact, some shows like Genesee Valley QuiltFest, Rochester, NY, are already accepting quilt registrations.   Because I am planning on entering several quilts in this show, I thought it best to think about what judges might be looking at in the judging process.

Can a quilt be ruined with quilting?

Some time back I read a blog by Lori Kennedy entitled “6 Ways to Ruin a Quilt with Quilting.”  Since we all think that quilting should enhance the quilt, in reality, it is not always the case.  Continue reading

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Safety in the Quilting Studio

Nothing can put your life on hold like an injury.  It is unexpected and unplanned.  Depending on the severity of the injury you can have daily activities and hobbies upset for a few hours, a few days, or even weeks.

After my husband sliced the skin off the tip of his finger yesterday with a box knife, I wasinjury clipart reminded even more of the need to be careful in the sewing room.  In the sewing room we work with rotary cutters that are equally as sharp as the box knife.  It doesn’t take much for an injury to happen, a careless (or not so careless) placement of the ruler, not thinking about where we place our hand and fingers, or even not thinking and leaving the safety off and the rotary cutter blade exposed for “just a second.”  There are even other hazards, such as pins and needles, sharp scissors, and electric cords running in different directions.  Although you may feel you have everything under control, if you have young children, grandchildren, or pets that roam through your quilting space, rotary cutters, pins and needles and stray cords are tempting, hazardous, and potentially deadly.  Pets are even attracted to things that adults and children would ignore.  For example, one of my Longarm customers needed a switch replaced on her Longarm because the cat, who liked to jump up on the frame and lay on the quilt, chewed the cap off the machine switch.  Fortunately for the cat, the machine was unplugged.

think safety first posterAlways think “Safety First.”  Whether you are cutting, sewing, pressing, or any other task, always think about your safety and the safety of others, including your pets.

Cutting Safety:

  • Replace mats that have grooves and marks that have not “healed.”
  • Replace the blade in the rotary cutter regularly. Dull blades do not cut well, need more pressure to cut, and may slip out of the fabric causing a wrong cut, damaging the ruler or hurting you.
  • Purchase rulers that have a non-slip surface, such as Creative Grids rulers,
    non-slip cutting rulers

    Creative Grids non-slip rulers and InvisiGrip non-slip static cling sheets.

    including the Stripology Ruler, or place InvisiGrip™ on the bottom of rulers. This clear static cling film provides a non-slipping surface on the bottom of the ruler.  Slipping or sliding rulers not only result in poor cuts, but can contribute to damage to the ruler from the blade and possible danger to the quilter from a cut from the rotary cutter.  After testing InvisiGrip™ on my 24” cutting ruler I have decided to put it on all of my clear rulers.  I have been very impressed that is really does provide a non-slip surface.

  • Use an elevated cutting table to work at a comfortable (and safe) height. A cutting table can easily and inexpensively be made from a short folding banquet table and lengths of PVC pipe cut 10-12” long and put under each leg.
  • Make sure the cutting area has good lighting and is clear of stray pins.
  • Keep your non-cutting hand behind and away from the direction and angle of the rotary cutter.
  • Always close the cutter after every use.

Quilting Room or Studio Safety:

Think "Safety First"

Think “Safety First”

  • Work in a well-lighted space.
  • Always use a pin cushion or magnetic pincushion to keep pins and needles secure. Invest in a magnetic wand to swipe across the floor to pick up any stray pins that have fallen.
  • If children or pets frequent the area, make sure dangerous items like pins and needles, scissors, and rotary cutters are put away. It isn’t a matter of organization, although that helps, it is a matter of “safety first.”
  • Never use an extension cord with the iron. Most extension cords are not heavy enough for the wattage draw and it could cause a fire.
  • Even if unplugged, a dangling electric cord from the iron can be a temptation to children and pets that might pull on it causing the iron to fall off the ironing board and onto the pet or child causing injury.  Always place the unused iron in a safe location.
  • Avoid running cords across traffic lanes. Tripping and falls are the number one cause of injury in adults ages 65 and over.  Even if you are younger, it is still dangerous to have cords across the path.
  • Always unplug the iron and sewing and/or quilting machines when not in use. Who knows what else could happen, but most have sensitive electronics in them that could be damaged by power surges or lightning strikes.  This type of damage is never covered under the product warranty.
  • Pets are attracted to dangling thread, thread spools and cones. They are wonderful toys!  But, they can be dangerous and deadly to your pet.  Make sure thread is put away and not a temptation.
  • Longarm owners with pets – the dangling quilt top and batting seems to be a wonderful place to play hide and seek, a great place to sleep, or claw. Dogs seem to especially like to chew the batting.  Cats also seem to like to jump up onto the frame and sleep on the quilt, like a hammock.  The Longarm is such a temptation.  You could close the door to the studio, put a shower curtain (plastic) over the quilt, or use strips of aluminum foil to reduce the temptation.  If you have other great solutions, please post them below in comments.

injury prevention planSafety first is a habit.  Take a critical look at your quilting area, make provision for safe, but convenient, storage for dangerous items, develop a procedure for putting things out of harm’s way and shutting things off when you leave your space. Get into the habit of always thinking about and doing the “safe” thing.  It may take a few seconds longer, but a careless unsafe move can cost hours, days, weeks or more of pain and the inconvenience of not being able to enjoy your time sewing and quilting.

 

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Bleeding Fabric – Saving Quilts from Disaster

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Patriotic color quilts for Veteran Quilt Project

The last few weeks I have been completing and quilting three 48×60 inch quilts for a veteran project for our local quilt club.  A few years ago the club decided to honor each veteran in the town with a quilt.  Although a small town, there are a couple of hundred veterans from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, through recent deployments to the Middle East.  The club has already given quilts to WWII veterans and the goal now is about 120 quilts for Korean, Vietnam, and other veterans.  Did I mention the club only has about 25 members?

After making and quilting the quilt, we wash the quilt and stitch on the label which will include the name of the recipient and that it is given by the club to honor them for their service to our country.  All of the quilts in any pattern are shades of red, white, and blue.  The club has a block of the month activity which supports our quilt efforts.  Each month those participating make a r/w/b block or blocks.  Whoever “wins” the drawing gets to take the blocks home, assemble and quilt the quilt. In addition, we have a couple of sit and sew days during the year to work on more quilts.  Members are always welcome to make quilts on their own, too.

Today I washed the three quilts that I had been working on, two quilts made from a Jenny Doan pattern (info below) and one from block of the month blocks I had won several months ago.  Since the quilt fabrics were not pre-washed before making the quilt, I decided it might be a

Color Catcher sheets to catch fugitive dyes.

Color Catcher sheets to catch fugitive dyes.  White sheet shown below the box.

good idea to put a “Color Catcher” sheet ($5.29 for box of 24) in the washing machine with the quilts.  The color catcher sheets pick up fugitive dyes released from the fabrics that would otherwise migrate to other fabrics in the quilts.  A red to blue, or blue to red migration might not be very noticeable, but certainly either of those colors to white would show up.  I am very glad that I put the color catcher sheets (2) in the washer as they both captured red dye and some blue.  The quilts look fabulous with no evidence of any dye migration.

What happens if you do not use color catchers in the washing machine and the dye

Center color catcher with red and blue dye captured. Right color catcher before. Left color catcher with little dye as it got caught in the washer drum.

Center color catcher with red and blue dye captured. Right color catcher before. Left color catcher with little dye as it got caught in the washer drum.

migrates?  Is the quilt ruined, or is there hope?   Because the dyes migrated once, they may still be unstable and able to be released from the fabric and “caught.”  I found additional help from another  blog post that offers several solutions and shows testing of several methods that can be used to try and capture the fugitive dyes from fabrics.

Although there might be hope to capture the fugitive dyes after the fact, using color catcher sheets the first time fabric is washed is probably better.  When I pre-wash my quilting fabrics (before making the quilt), I always toss in a couple of color catcher sheets.  Because my two quilts were made with strips, they were not pre-washed.  As a result, it was very important to capture any fugitive dyes during the wash using the color catcher sheets.  If little or no dye was released during the wash, great!  At least I was taking preventative measures just in case there were fugitive dyes.

quilts

Pattern: Jack and Jill by Jenny Doan

Quilt pattern called Jack and Jill by Jenny Doan.  Pattern directions using jelly rolls make a quilt 73″ x 83.”

 

 

 

 

 

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How Cotton Fabric Is Made Ready for Your Quilt Shop

We all use it, cotton fabric.  In fact, most quilts are made of cotton fabric.  Years ago fabricfabric was manufactured in the United States from cotton grown in the US.  Today, although the US grows cotton, nearly all fabric is manufactured outside of the US.

After the cotton is harvested and woven into the fabric called greig (pronounced gray) goods (unprocessed woven fabric), there are many steps that it must go through before it is ready to be dyed and shipped to your local quilt shop.   This video, filmed in a fabric plant in Hong Kong and Zhejiang, China takes you through the many steps needed to prepare the fabric, then dye, set the dyes with chemicals and heat, and finally wash and prepare the fabric for shipping.  I think you will find it interesting to see all that goes into making the beautiful and colorful quilting fabrics that we enjoy using in our quilts.

As you watch the video, remember that this was filmed in China.  China does not have the same standards of safety and cleanliness in their factories that are required by OSHAH here in the US.  For example, wet floors, the haze in the air from the chemicals and dryers, and even allowing long hair on workers would all be violations, each occurence of each violation with a $5,000 fine here in the US.  Our OSHAH inspectors would have a heyday writing up violations in a factory like this one.  However, because the labor is cheap and there are few, if any, work safety standards to worry about, we benefit by being able to purchase a huge variety of fabrics at a relatively low cost.  If fabric were manufactured in the US with our much higher labor costs and cost of compliance to regulations, we would be paying much, much more.

So, please take the video at face value and appreciate all of the work that goes into creating our wonderful quilting fabrics.

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What’s Special About Egyptian Cotton Thread?

Perhaps in quilting circles you have heard that the best quilting thread on the market is made of Egyptian cotton.  But what makes it better than cotton grown in the US, China, India, or other countries and why should quilters look for Egyptian cotton thread?

“Dr Bob” of Superior Threads explained more about Egyptian cotton in a September 17, 2017 educational post.  There is also a short video below where “Dr Bob” explains and demonstrates more about cotton thread and answers questions about the differences between short, long and extra long staple thread, coated thread and thread “memory.”

Dr Bob writes, “Last week both Walmart and Target announced that they were pulling sheets branded as Egyptian cotton from their shelves because they “suddenly discovered” that they are not Egyptian cotton. We’ve been fighting the Egyptian cotton mislabel battle for years, knowing that Egypt does not grow enough cotton to make all the Egyptian cotton sheets, towels, clothing, and thread that is sold. Our cotton threads really are made from Egyptian-grown extra-long staple cotton.

Here are some interesting cotton facts from a recent year:
A standard bale of cotton weighs 480 lbs.
In one year, the world produced 114 million bales.
The top five cotton-producing countries:
1. China (26% of total)
2. India (23% of total)
3. United States (16% of total)
4. Pakistan (8% of total)
5. Brazil (7% of total)
Egypt ranks number 15 among cotton-producing countries and produces only .0005% of the total amount. That is one-twentieth of one percent. If Egypt is such a tiny dot on the cotton-growing map, why is Egyptian cotton so prevalent? Why is there so much Egyptian cotton clothing, bed sheets, towels, and thread? The truth is, there isn’t. The label may say Egyptian Cotton but the contents are not. Whether it is due to false advertising, misunderstanding, or ignorance on the part of seller, the fact remains that it is incorrect. There is not enough Egyptian cotton in existence to produce all the products labeled as Egyptian Cotton. It would be safe to say that there is 10,000 times more Egyptian cotton sold than is grown.
Does it really matter? Those who know cotton quality obviously understand that it does matter. Otherwise, many companies would not be falsely claiming that their cotton is ‘Egyptian Cotton’ when in fact, it is not. There is something about the climate, soil, water, and minerals in Egypt that is ideal to grow the highest-grade cotton. It is not possible to tell the origin of cotton fibers by examining them. But you and your machine will know the difference. A high-grade cotton with advanced processing will be clean, smooth, and consistent.
What about Superior’s MasterPiece and King Tut cotton thread? As far as I can tell, we are the only thread company that can honestly say this: 100% extra-long staple Egyptian-grown cotton. Our factory buys cotton from Egypt, transports it by ship to Japan for spinning, twisting, gassing, finishing, mercerizing, dyeing, and winding, and then ships it to us in Utah, USA. And it is guaranteed to work in your machine.”   From Superior Threads.

From personal experience, I use both Master Piece for all of my piecing and King Tut for longarm quilting.  I have found they are excellent, low lint cotton threads that are strong and perform to my highest expectations.  There are many colors available to blend with any quilt.  Although they are more expensive, they are higher quality than regular cotton thread and I know they will last and I won’t have problems with breakage, knotting, or bird nests.  Inexpensive thread is never worth the aggravation.  For the few pennies extra per project, I find using top quality thread is always the best decision.

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Practice Quilting Without Wasting Fabric and Batting

Yes, we all know that practice makes perfect.  Practice develops muscle memory which is used to repeat the movements needed to free motion quilt (both on the home sewing machine and longarm) or to follow a panto smoothly with a longarm.  But, how can we practice without feeling like we will spoil a nice quilt or charity quilt, or without wasting fabric and batting?

The “Strokes” of Free Motion Quilting

Although cursive writing is no longer being taught in schools, back in the day when it was, students took a class called penmanship.  In that class they traced the letters and repeated the strokes needed to create beautiful hand writing, or at least legible writing.  This usually started in late 2nd or in 3rd grade.  Learning to free motion quilt is very similar to penmanship class.  There are only five strokes you need to practice which are the arc, “s,” loop, hook or point, and straight line.  Unlike penmanship class, however, these strokes (movements) need to be practiced and mastered working in all directions, not just left to right.  Like penmanship, mastering the strokes first before applying them to a design is helpful and actually shortens the learning curve of free motion quilting.

Practicing Free Motion Strokes

Practicing Free Motion Strokes

One quick look at a panto will confirm that all free motion quilting designs are a combination of two or more of these strokes (movements).  So, how or where does a quilter practice to become proficient and confident?

Practice Without Wasting Fabric and Batting

The good news is that it is not totally necessary to practice at the machine or longarm.  Simply moving the hand and arm through the strokes builds muscle memory.  As a result, the quilter can create a series of exercises making these strokes on a whiteboard with a dry erasable marker, using a pencil on paper, or even following a panto pattern with your finger.  Remember that these strokes must be made in all directions, R to L, L to R, top to bottom, bottom to top, diagonally, etc.  Although these exercises are a wonderful place to start and practice to remain proficient, at some point it is necessary to work at the machine.

Practice At The Machine

For longarm quilters, pantos are a great place to start.  The design is already there, the strokes pre- planned, and the results should look very nice.  And remember, no one knows whether your laser was on the line or not.

If you feel you are not ready to tackle one of your quilts, or even a charity quilt, the next

Cat Crate Pads from Practice Quilts

Cat Crate Pads from Practice Quilts

best option is to purchase inexpensive fabric and batting (neither recommended for quilts you cherish or give) and simply practice the strokes over and over again.  Then begin to build the strokes into simpler designs at first, progressing to more complicated designs.  If you are feeling wasteful in doing this, know that veterinary offices usually welcome things that can be used as mats in the pet crates.  Our local vet has crates that are 14″ x 18″ for the cats.  Because I use a lot of practice fabric and batting on the frame at quilt shows (about 5-7 yards per show), I always “recycle” or re-purpose the “quilt” into cat crate mats.  I cut them to size and either zig-zag or serge around the edges before giving them to the vet.  They do appreciate them, use them, may even wash them a number of times until they are no longer usable.

If you want to learn a new design, learn feathers, or improve the designs you already do, practice them before you start quilting on the quilt.  Use the whiteboard, paper/pencil, trace with your finger, or trace the design with the machine not running, or keep a practice “quilt” ready.  Even when I free motion quilt a small project at my home machine, I always have a practice piece ready to get warmed up on.  For larger projects I plan to longarm, I always have a large practice “quilt” ready to zip onto the longarm.  Practice is never a waste of time or materials.  It is the best, and only way, to improve your quilting skills.

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Border Options with Robotic (Computer Guided) Quilting

Quilting edge-to-edge designs or blocks with robotic (computer guided) quilting is relatively easy to accomplish.  Creating a “custom” border treatment can be accomplished, but it is necessary to think out of the box.  We tend to think of stitching borders like we did when hand quilting or quilting on the home sewing machine.  For best results with a longarm, we need to begin thinking out of the box, diving the space into smaller, manageable stitching areas, or using techniques that achieve the results with less effort.

Most robotic software gives you the option of rotating and flipping which can help in designing and executing border treatments.  Here are a few ideas to try.  If you have never stitched a border treatment, start with one of the simpler ideas before trying something with a more complicated layout.

Six Border Treatment Options

  1. Dead end borders. Choose a border pattern or squared off narrow panto.  Stitch from one edge to the other edge of the quilt top and bottom.  Rotate the quilt 90 degrees, load, stitch the same pattern in the border space between the top and bottom border.  Don’t forget to flip the pattern to stitch the bottom row.  This pattern can be setup in the panto portion of the software and is usually defined with height and width of the pattern.
  2. Offset dead end borders. Choose a border pattern or squared off narrow panto.  The
    Offset Dead End Borders Quilt by Joyce Blowers

    Offset Dead End Borders – Quilt by Joyce Blowers

    border will be stitched as in #1, but on the top border will start at the inside seam line on the left and stitch to the edge on the right.  On the bottom border the stitching will stitch from the inside border seam on the right and stitch to the edge on the left.  Rotate the quilt 90 degrees, load, and stitch the pattern in the border spaces.  Don’t forget to flip the pattern to stitch the bottom row.

  3. Out of the box thinking border. Break the border into manageable stitching areas.
    quilt border cornerstone

    Cornerstone Border – Quilt by Sally Mowers

    These can be separated by “corner stones” stitched between the border pattern either using sashing junctions or creating your own separations.  Because the stitching is accomplished in smaller stitch outs, the quilt does not need to be rotated.  Rotate the pattern to stitch vertically on the side borders.

  4. Dead end borders with cornerstones. Similar to #1, but place a different pattern in the corners.  The border stitching would dead end at the cornerstone.
  5. Border and corner patterns. Many border patterns are also available with a corner connecting pattern.  Place the corner pattern first into the corner space and stitch.
    quilt border

    Border and Corner Pattern
    Sample by Joyce Blowers

    Using the panto setup of the program, create the border using the repeating pattern elements to fill the border space (height and width).  Save the design, place it and stitch.  Many programs have the option of placing the first and last stitch (connecting to the corner designs), as well as sizing the pattern exactly in the space.  Use these options to get the perfect fit.  The sample illustrated the corner and border pattern connected just to the right of center in the photo.  The corner pattern wraps around the corner while the panto portion simply goes across the border joining the corner on both ends.  This method would require the quilt to be turned to stitch the side borders.  It also takes more skill in working with patterns and using the placement features available with the program.  Practice this technique before trying it on a quilt.

  6. Create a unique border using triangles. Triangle patterns can be used to create interesting borders.  When linked together, like panto repeating elements, they can
    Border from triangle patterns. Quilt by Sally Mowers

    Border from triangle patterns – Quilt by Sally Mowers

    be sewn like a panto.  Select triangle patterns that start stitching on one side of the base of the triangle and stop on the other end of the base.  Do not use patterns that start and stop in the same point.

    quilt border

    Border created with triangle patterns.

    Use two rows of triangles, one row pointing up, the other pointing down to fill in the space and leave the end with a mitered corner.  Offset one row from the other and combine the rows so the two rows fit together.   This new panto of triangle units can be quilted onto the top and bottom border.  Remember to flip the border on the bottom.  The triangles create a beautiful complex looking border and may be easier than other methods of stitching a border with a computer guided system.    The quilt could be rotated 90 degrees to quilt the sides (create a new border if the length is different from the top and bottom).  Or, although fussy, the triangles could be placed one at a time to complete the side border.  Caution doing this.  Make sure you measure carefully when setting the individual triangles so that they will fit exactly in the side border.

Stitching borders using a computer guided system can be done.  Think about what results you want to see, then, challenge yourself to think outside the box to create it in a simpler way using the features and options available in your robotic software.

 

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