Listening To The Heart Of The Quilter

If you quilt for yourself, you can do whatever you want with the quilting with a panto, your own edge to edge designs, free motion quilting or templates.  After all it is your quilt and you can do whatever you want.  If you quilt for others, however, it is not your quilt and you need to listen carefully to the quilt maker to catch their vision for the quilt.
For quilts that come to my studio for quilting, I have questions I always ask the quilt maker:
  1. Who is the quilt for?  I am not being nosy.  A quilt for a young child to use and love really doesn’t need custom quilting like a wedding quilt might.  Some quilts will be washed many times, other quilts, seldom, if ever.  Knowing the purpose of the quilt can be important in guiding the quilting decisions that include type of batting, the style of quilting and perhaps, even the selection of thread.
  2. What is the quilt maker’s vision for the quilting?  Although quilters that bring a quilt to be quilted don’t want to do the quilting, they often have a vision of what they would like to see.  They may not personally like feathers all over, they might think the recipient of the quilt would love geometric patterns, they have likes and dislikes and know the recipient best.  It is important to do what the customer wants, if at all possible.  It might not be what you would do if the quilt were yours, but remember, the quilt is not yours.

Once I have a good feel for the purpose, use and quilt maker’s vision for the quilt, I offer

quilting

6″ floral pattern compliments flowers in 1930’s print.

possible options.  For example, if they think a floral panto would be nice, I show the customer pantos I think would be the right scale for the quilt and with a pattern that would look nice with the quilt pattern and fabrics as illustrated in the photo above.  For custom quilting, we talk about possible design options for the blocks, sashing and borders and I show the customer samples of what is possible so they can see if it fits with their vision for the quilt.  Most people like options to choose from.  That is why we have shelves of cereal, soda, cookies, and everything else in our stores.

Hunter's Star blocks quilted.

Custom quilted – Hunter’s Star blocks, feathered block treatment with separate “circles” stars in the stars. Simple piano keyboard in the border, stitch in the ditch along inner border.

Finally, after deciding how the quilt will be quilted, my client helps select the thread.  We talk about the “star” of the quilt.  Is it the quilt pattern and fabrics, or the quilting, or a balance of all?  Based on that decision, I start pulling out thread color options.  Variegated, solid, poly, cotton, puddling the thread across the fabrics to see how each looks.  Some are taken off right away as they are too light, too dark, too prominent, or fade away and not even visible.  Looking at what is left the customer, sometimes with a little guidance, is able to decide which color and type of thread really looks the best.  A slightly off white thread, King Tut, was chosen for the 1930’s quilt to highlight the quilting without over powering the fabrics.  The Hunter’s Star quilt has pale blue thread.  Testing white thread first I found too much contrast, however the pale blue offered just the right amount of contrast on both the white and blue in the quilt.

As a quilter, you have that vision.  You made the quilt and you, either consciously or subconsciously, have made these same decisions.  However, if you quilt for others, or even allow friends to use your longarm, you need to remember, it is not your quilt.  I even have a couple of clients that came to me because their former longarmer did what she wanted on quilts rather than what the customer wanted.  Help your customers (or friends) make the right choices to enhance their quilt in the best way possible with quilting suitable for the use and intent of the quilt, and the vision of the quilt maker.

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Borders Can Make or Break the Quilt – Do It Right

Quilters often take a lot of time piecing their blocks and square them up before assembly.  The body of the quilt looks wonderful, color choices are excellent, and the quilt has the potential to be beautiful.  That is, until the borders are added.  As a professional Longarm quilter, the borders are where I often see many problems.  Incorrectly applied borders often lead to puckers, pleats, wavy borders and dog-eared quilts.  All of this can be avoided.

Although you may not realize it, one of the functions of borders is to stabilize and square up a quilt.  Throughout the body of the quilt are cut (unstable) edges around the outside of each of the blocks  Even though the patches may be cut on grain, the cut edges can stretch easily.  When borders are added correctly to a quilt top, the edges of the body of the quilt are contained and restricted within the new measurement.  The key word here is, applied or added correctly to achieve this.

problem quilt

A quilt that could use borders to stabilize and square it up.  Notice distorted sides and wavy bottom on this quilt.

Incorrect method for adding borders

Cut or make a long strip, stitch to one of the sides of the quilt and cut off the extra.  Because no measuring is done with this method, you have no idea how long one side of the quilt is compared with the opposite side of the quilt.  If one side stretches out a little more when the border is stitched on, that side will be longer leading to a dog-eared quilt.  Do not use this method to add borders to any quilt.

quilt by Sally Mowers

Quilt with correctly applied borders hangs straight.
Dresden Plate, designed, made and quilted by Sally Mowers

Correct method for adding borders

Even though it takes a little longer, the correct method for adding borders involves measuring, using a little math, and perhaps easing in fullness.

  1. Measure across the area in three places, near the top and near the bottom, but never along the edge, and across the middle.
  2. Average the three measurements and use the average as the measurement to cut the length of both borders.
  3. Quarter the quilt top marking with pins. Quarter the border strip marking with pins.  Align the quarter marks and pin the border to the quilt.  Pin between the quarter marks distributing any fullness evenly.
  4. Placing the fullest side down, stitch together. When the fullest side is down, the feed dogs on the machine gently pull the bottom through a little faster than the top.  There are no puckers or pleats on the top or bottom.
  5. Press the border seam outward toward the border.
  6. Measure across the quilt and borders in three places, similar to #1, average the measurements as in #2.
  7. Follow steps #3-5 to add the other border.

For a visual of this technique, see the video below by Dee Christopher.  Video also demonstrates a bonus no math method for determining size of a pieced border.

Whether you quilt your quilts yourself or have them quilted professionally, by taking the extra time to add borders correctly, your quilts will look much better with square corners and straight sides.

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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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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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Squaring Up Flying Geese Units

Regardless of the technique we use or how carefully we work with fabric patches, there are bound to be slight irregularities in seam allowance or minor distortion in the fabrics.  To correct these problems, it is a good idea to start with slightly oversize patches and square up the subunit to the correct measurement.  I usually start with 1/8th to 1/4th inch oversize patches.  Once constructed, there is a little to trim off when squaring to the correct measurement for the subunit.

Flying geese units often have more issues with construction than other units, especially if made with the traditional method using triangles.  Newer techniques help minimize the problems, but it is still a good idea to square up the subunits.  (See “The Best Flying Geese Technique I Know!)

There are several rulers on the market designed to easily square up flying geese units.  All will help preserve the ¼” seam allowance and keep the points from being trimmed off.  Some, however, only work with one or two sizes of flying geese.  Studio 180 Design, however, has, what I think, is the best flying geese ruler on the market.  It is called Wing Clipper.  With it you can square up flying geese units from 1”x1 ½” to 5 ½” x 10 ½” in half inch increments.  There is also Wing Clipper II for squaring in ¼” and ¾” measurements.

Flying Geese units trimmed with Studio 180 Design's Wing Clipper ruler.

Flying Geese units trimmed with Studio 180 Design’s Wing Clipper ruler.

I have used Wing Clipper for a number of projects and really appreciate how easy it is to use and how beautiful the flying geese units looks when squared up correctly with this ruler.  Click to see a video demonstrating the Wing Clipper.  If you can’t find this ruler at your quilt store, you can order it on line from Studio 180 Design.  The ruler comes with excellent directions for both left hand and right hand cutting and a chart with cutting instructions for all of the sizes you can trim using the ruler.

 

The Best Flying Geese Technique I Know!

I love making blocks that use flying geese now that I learned this construction technique.  I no longer am sewing bias edge triangles together.  The technique is easy to do and with each construction you are making four flying geese units which are enough for a block.

Below is a short video from Fons and Porter showing this construction technique.  From 5 pieces of fabric you will have 4 flying geese units.  I recommend cutting the patches a little over size so that the final flying geese unit can be squared up to size.

Once you try this technique, don’t hesitate to tackle any block that has flying geese units.

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Easy Flying Geese

Flying geese subunits are the mainstay of many star blocks.  The challenge with the flying geese subunit is maintaining the points and the distortion because of bias stitching.  All of this results in subunits that are not quite rectangular.  If you try to square them up, another challenge is the math and trimming (squaring the subunit) to keep the ¼” accurate so that the points are nice and sharp.  As a result, many quilters simply avoid making anything with these flying geese.

The good news is that there are several methods and techniques that, when used separately, or combined, result in perfect flying geese.  Not only are these methods and techniques easy, but fun.  In the next several posts I will cover techniques and methods for piecing perfect flying geese.

One Seam Flying Geese

Nothing could be easier than stitching only one seam.  Sounds impossible, but it is true.  Following are two videos that illustrate this technique, one with Ricky Tims and the other with Jenny Doan.  After you see this technique, you will want to run to your stash and start making these easy flying geese by the hundreds.

 

 

 

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Avoiding Fold Marks in Quilts

Fold marks on a quilt distract from the beauty of the quilt and over time can damage and weaken the fabric.  Whenever possible use a method that does not involve folding.  Here are a few possibilities for storing quilts to minimize or avoid fold marks.

Storage Methods Without Folding

  1. Small wall hangings can be hung on pants hangers. The area under the clip can be padded with extra batting.
  2. Larger wall hangings can be layered on top of each other and rolled. For support when rolling, use a pool noodle.  These are inexpensive and can be purchased at a “dollar” store.
  3. If you have an extra bedroom, lay the large wall hangings and bed quilts out flat on top of each other on top of a bed. Lay a sheet on top of the pile to protect from dust and especially if there is a lot of sunlight in the room.

Biggest Challenge – Avoiding Fold Marks When Storing

At the end of a workshop I took from Joe Cunningham last fall Joe started packing up his quilts to put into the large suitcase for the trip back to his home in California.  As he was talking to us he casually flopped one corner over, then another, and another, then part of the quilt, and so on.  Thinking this was just a “guy” thing I asked what he was doing.  He stopped and talked to the class about his method of folding and that it helped avoid fold marks.  This was especially important for his quilts that often lived in the suitcase traveling from workshop to workshop and back to his studio.

Folding the quilt on the diagonal places the folds across the bias of the fabrics.  Start by folding in one corner on the diagonal, move around the quilt folding in corners.  Each does not need to be exactly the same.  Then fold across on a diagonal, and so on until the quilt is small enough for storage.  The key is to use a different fold pattern the next time to reduce the stress on the fabric.

Alex Anderson recently discovered this method from a friend.  She shares her experience and the technique in the following video.

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Super Easy Flying Geese Quilt

Flying geese are often subunits in star blocks and by themselves make a very attractive quilt.  In the video below Jenny Doan demonstrates the easiest technique I have ever seen to have the look of flying geese, but without all of the effort.  Once you see this technique you will want to be on the lookout for just the right fabrics, or better yet, this might make a good stash buster.  Have fun!

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Correct Method for Adding Borders to a Quilt Top

The Problem

As a professional Longarm quilter I have the privilege of seeing many lovely quilts.  There is, however, a problem that can occur when borders are not correctly added to a quilt top.  Many times a strip of fabric is laid on the quilt top, sewn from one end to the other and then cut off.  Unfortunately, this results in wavy borders and dog eared corners.  No amount of awesome quilting can change the look of an out of square quilt.

Regardless of the precision taken during the piecing process, because of the nature of fabric, the cut edges and sometimes bias edges, a quilt top will not be perfectly square.  As a result, by adding borders correctly, you can square up the quilt top so that when quilted it will look much better, lay flatter, or if a wall quilt, hang straight on the wall.

The Solution

The correct method for adding borders starts with measuring the quilt top in three places, just in from the top and bottom and across the middle.  Two strips are cut the same length for the opposite borders using the middle measurement easing in the fullness, if any.  The same steps are repeated for the other two sides. Although this method takes a few minutes longer, you will be more satisfied with how your quilt looks when completed.  The video below walks you through the steps to correctly add borders to any quilt top.

Sewing Tip

If there was any fullness that was “eased” in by distributing the fullness and pinning as illustrated in the video, always place the eased or fuller side down (next to the feed dogs) when stitching.  The feed dogs will evenly pull the fullness through.  If you try to stitch with the fullness on the top, the presser foot will push the fullness along and make little pleats.  Always stitch with the fullest side down.

If you have never added borders using this method, I encourage you to try it.  You will be love the results.

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