It’s The Little Things That Really Count

I recently taught longarm quilting and computer guided classes two days in Iowa. The thought occurred to me during one of the classes that what I was trying to get across was that successful quilting is the result of doing many little things right. Quilters often wonder why the quilt is a little askew, the blocks are not quite square, the panto isn’t quite straight, or the tension is not quite right. The results they had hoped for were not quite there.

What are the little things that count? After careful thought, here is my top 10 list of things to pay attention to for an outstanding quilt.

  1. Choose quality fabric for both top and backing. Yes, there is a difference in fabric. You do get what you pay for. I prefer to prewash my fabric tossing in a color catcher to capture any fugitive dyes. I don’t like finding dyes bleeding and even color fast fabrics may have a little color loss in the wash. The color catcher captures the dyes keeping them from migrating and attaching to the fabric in other locations.
  2. Besides careful piecing using a consistent 1/4 inch seam allowance, trim subunits and blocks to size before piecing into the next larger unit. Because I like to trim, I always cut patches slightly oversize. In fact, I use Studio 180 cutting rulers that start with a slightly oversize measurements to allow for trimming to size. The subunits and blocks come out perfectly sized, points in tact and look awesome when sewed into the quilt.

    careful piecing

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

  3. Learn the correct way to add borders to a quilt top. Borders when properly applied will “square up” the quilt. Both top and bottom border should be cut the same length, even if the length of the top and bottom of the quilt are not quite the same measurement. Ease in any fullness, but always cut the borders the same length. The same is true for the side borders. Cut both of them the same length. Ease in any fullness. Sew top and border together with the fullest one on the bottom where the feed dogs gently pull the fullness evening it out for a perfect look.
  4. Spend the few extra minutes it takes to load the quilt correctly on the longarm frame. Always square up the top and bottom of the backing piece so that the backing is square. If you try loading backing with an uneven top and/or bottom, scoops of backing may develop on the sides of the backing, which when quilted may pleat the backing. Even with squaring the top and bottom of the backing, it is best to roll and smooth the backing onto the take up roller, then, transfer the backing from the take up roller to the belly bar roller holding onto both rollers keeping tension on the backing.  Stop rolling periodically to smooth out any little wrinkles in the backing as it rolls onto the belly bar roller.

    loading a quilt

    Transferring quilt backing from take up roller to belly bar roller keeping tension on the backing.

  5. Use quality batting. Quality batting has a consistent thickness throughout and has nice even edges that are not warped. The batting is very important in the quilt, not only as a filler between the top and backing, but it provides the place for the top and bobbin thread to meet when the knot is formed. When batting is poor quality with thick in places and thin in other places, it is impossible for the tension to be adjusted to create a perfect stitch every time.  In places where the batting is very thin, there is no hiding place for the knot to form resulting in what looks like poor tension with the top thread pulled to the bottom or the bobbin thread pulled to the top. You only cheat yourself by using poor quality batting.
  6. Open the batting and let it relax for a few hours before using it. If that is not possible, put the batting into the dryer on the no heat cycle for about 10 minutes to fluff it up and help remove the folds.
  7. Baste the batting to the backing with the vertical channel lock engaged to create a basting line that is perfectly parallel to the rollers. Use this basting line as a placement line for placing the top. Your quilt can’t possible end up square if you don’t load it square with the frame.
  8. Center the quilt top with the center of the frame.  Use a zero center tape mounted on the frame to reference when loading the quilt and each time the quilt is advanced to keep the quilt top tracking squarely centered on the frame. The quilt top should be smooth, but never distorted or pushed to one side or the other and the sides always kept at the designated measurement regardless of variances in width of the quilt.

    zero center tape

    Using a zero center tape to keep the quilt top square with the frame.

  9. Train your eyes and your fingers to recognize quality tension. You should see defined stitches, not the thread as a flat line or pokes of the bobbin thread on top or top thread on the bottom. Your fingers should feel the thread pulling into the batting on both the top and bottom. Physically check the tension by looking at the stitching, especially on the bottom if you are not sure.

    quilt sample

    Flat line thread and “pokies” where the batting is very thin.

  10. Use thread that is engineered for machine quilting.  Machine quilting thread is stronger and designed to work at the higher speeds longarm quilting machines
    quilting thread

    Quality machine quilting thread available in a wide array of colors and sizes.

    operate.  Machine quilting threads come in all weights, #, and TEX, fiber content, and a huge selection of colors.  Yes, it is a little more expensive than regular sewing thread, but the total cost per quilt would only be from a few cents to a few dollars more.  Don’t forget the machine needle.  Size the needle to the thread.  It is the groove that carries the thread below the quilt where the top thread loop can be picked up by the hook and bobbin thread.  If the groove is too small, tension problems result.

Are there more?  Yes. Each of these might seem like such a little thing.  But the sum total of the little things done right result in an all over top quality quilt.  Just think about it.  If you purchased a new car that had just a few little things not quite right would you be happy with the product?  It’s only one tire that is just a little out of round, a little scratch in the door paint, one tail light that is dim, the cup holder not quite large enough, and a little stain on the seat.

Resolve to do the little things.  You will be happy you did.

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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

Is Perfect Longarm Tension Possible?

Learning to adjust the machine tension is the biggest learning curve in longarm quilting.

perfect longarm tension

Perfect tension looks as good on the back as on the front.

Quilters often become more comfortable with quilting pantos and free motion quilting before they are comfortable adjusting the tension.  We aren’t used to adjusting tension as most sewing machines today rarely, if ever, need the tension adjusted.  Longarm machines, however, DO need the tension adjusted, usually with every quilt and every thread change.

Let’s take a look at why tension must be adjusted, then how to do it successfully.

Why does tension need adjusting?

  • Each quilt is different – different fabrics, different backing, perhaps different batting, and different threads in top and bobbin.  Each of these variables will affect the tension.
  • Today is a different day than yesterday.  Even high humidity can affect cotton causing it to absorb moisture from the air.

How to adjust tension successfully:

  • Accept the fact that tension must be adjusted and checked frequently and re-adjusted if necessary.
  • Use top quality batting that has a consistent thickness.  It is impossible to adjust tension when batting is thick in places and thin in other places.
  • Use top quality thread that is designed for machine quilting, especially longarm quilting.  Longarms operate at a much higher speed than home machines and operate best with strong machine quilting thread.
  • Use a Towa Bobbin Gauge to reliably and consistently set the bobbin tension with
    towa bobbin gauge

    Towa Bobbin Gauge

    every new bobbin.  Nolting L-hook set at 100-125 and M-hook set at 200-225.  Once the bobbin tension is set, you do not touch the bobbin again, only the top tension will be adjusted.

  • Use space at the side of the quilt, the backing and batting placing a strip of fabric on top to test and adjust the tension.
  • Always use the same color thread, or nearly the same color, in both top and bobbin. It does not need to be the same thread, different weight threads are OK.   Using the same color thread will “hide” the places where there are slight inconsistencies in tension.
  • Always adjust the tension using the stitch length or motor speed you plan on using when quilting the quilt. Changing the stitch length or motor speed will usually affect the tension.
  • Tighten the top tension until you see the bobbin thread poking or nearly poking out the needle holes on the top of the quilt.
  • Now to balance the tension, loosen the top tension until the bobbin thread is back
    thread tension

    Thread Tension

    down in the needle hole. You want to barely see the bobbin thread down in the needle hole.  The bobbin thread should not be visible on the top and the top thread should not be visible on the bottom.  When you can still see the bobbin thread down in the hole, you know the top and bottom thread will be forming the stitch in the batting.  This way you should not have to look at the back of the quilt very often.

  • Once adjusted, feel of the stitch line on the back of the quilt. It should feel depressed into the batting.
  • Once the tension is balanced at the side of the quilt, you can start quilting on the quilt. Be vigilant when you start quilting the panto or blocks, stop and check the tension frequently at first and tweak if needed.  Because the quilt top is not the same as your test strip at the side, you may need to make a little adjustment to the tension once you start quilting.

For more on tension see “Guide to Quilting with Your Nolting.”

Yes, you can achieve perfect longarm tension.  It takes time, patience and practice using the technique described above.

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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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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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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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Design Wall Options

Years ago I never thought about the angle at which quilts would be viewed.  I simply laid the pieces on the floor or on the bed, rearranged the blocks to what looked OK, and sewed them together.  Today, however, I realize that how quilts are viewed during construction compared with after they are made may be totally different.  The perspective is totally different when looking at a quilt on an angle on the floor or bed versus straight on when on the wall.  As a result, I have found that using a design wall is essential to audition and make choices on the patch colors in a block, block placement, fabric colors, border and binding choices.  In fact, seeing the quilt take shape on a design has even changed some of the choices previously made because they simply didn’t contribute to the quilt as I once thought they would.

What is a design wall?

A design wall is simply a vertical space that is large enough to audition anything from block

design wall

Design Wall

patches to a quilt.  It can be any size that meets the quilter’s needs.  Some design walls are inexpensive or an easy DIY project, others are more costly.  My small design “wall” is a 18″x24″ foam core board with a flannel pillowcase over it.  I use it to audition block patches and to layer block patches for sewing.  It is close to my sewing machine, keeps the patches organized, making it easy to pick up the patches when stitching them together.  My other design wall is larger and attached to a wall in my studio.

Design Wall Options

  • Flannel backed table cloth. Very inexpensive and easy to tack up on any wall surface.  Flannel backed table cloths can be purchased in a range of sizes.  The largest size, however, would not be big enough for a large quilt.
  • Flannel covered insulating board. This is a relatively easy DIY project made from 2’x8’ or 4’x8’ insulation board available from a home improvement store.  It is light weight, yet strong enough to lean or fasten on a wall.  Use this link for instructions to make this project.  http://christaquilts.com/2013/11/11/a-new-design-wall/  Instructions for other similar projects are also available online.
  • Portable design walls. Offered in different sizes, this design wall is made of a light weight framedesign wall portable design wall retractable with flannel stretched across it.  This type of design wall would be ideal if it needed to be used at a class, moved from one room to another, or had no permanent location.  http://www.cherylannsdesignwall.com/
  • Mounted retractable roller design wall. When delivering a Longarm system a couple of years ago, I discovered this unique product at our customer’s studio.  Mounted on a wall or over a closet, this design wall pulls down, like a shade, offering space to audition a quilt.  The beauty of his product is that it takes up very little space and can easily be rolled up out of view or allowing access to whatever is behind the design wall.  It can even be rolled up with the patches or blocks still on it as illustrated in the photo.  This would make an ideal design wall in a small sewing area where a larger fixed design wall would not be possible.  http://www.design-a-way.com/

Regardless of how much quilting you do, the design wall is an important “tool” that allows you to visualize the finished quilt helping you make good design choices.  Besides having a design wall, make sure you also have good lighting.

Other links:

http://blog.shopmartingale.com/quilting-sewing/9-quilt-design-wall-ideas/

For those on Pinterest  https://www.pinterest.com/explore/quilt-design-wall/

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