Quilt “Finds” in Golden

On a recent trip to Colorado we visited the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum.  The exhibit was very well done and quite enjoyable.  Our visit there, however, turned into a bit of an adventure when I discovered they had vintage quilt tops for sale.  The museum had recently acquired a number of very nice tops, all donated from various sources.  Occasionally after someone passes, the family finds quilts stored in dressers, closets, and trunks.  Because the family has no interest in these old quilts and doesn’t have anyone to give them to, they donate them to the museum.  I am sure some very fine examples may be saved by the museum, but usually the quilts and tops are sold to help support the mission of the museum.

Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum

Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, Golden, CO

Quilt “Finds”

I was super excited to see fine vintage quilt tops for sale.  Here in New York, a few quilt tops become available, old quilts are sometimes found, but for me to see a large stack of old, vintage quilt tops was quite the “find.”  I looked through the pile, then was directed to another area of the museum store where there were even more quilt tops.  Tops ranged in age from the 1860’s through the 1970’s.  There were a number of 1930’s tops, feed sack tops, many different quilt patterns, applique quilts, many hand pieced, some pieced well, some not so well.  It was fun to see so many old quilts and to wonder about their history.

Wondering About The Past

As I thought about these quilts, especially the 1860’s to 1880’s quilts, I wondered if they traveled to Colorado in a wagon.  For the “newer” quilts from the 1900’s through the 1930’s, I wondered if they were made by pioneers in Colorado, or whether, they made the trip from some other place as people moved and resettled in Colorado.  Life in the early days of Colorado, the 1800’s even into the 1930’s was tough.  Women often lived in isolated and remote areas in the mountains, on farms, some lived in mining camps.  This was the old “west.”  Some of the tops looked like they were made just for bed coverings, yet others showed impeccable workmanship with tiny running stitches in the seams and excellent applique hand stitched with tiny blind stitches.

While at the museum I bought a book titled, “The Quilt That Walked to Golden,” written by Sandra Dallas with Nanette Simonds. (ISBN 13:978-1-9333081-7-3)  This excellent text is written from diary excerpts of many pioneer women and details “women and quilts in the mountain west from the overland trail to contemporary Colorado.”  I have found this book informative and very insightful in telling the story of these hardy and resourceful women, their lives, struggles, their heartwarming stories, and the hard realities of life on the frontier.

The title of the book is rather interesting.  The author points out that when pioneer women were preparing to leave the “comforts” of civilization in the East and travel by wagon to the west, they wanted to take some of the niceties they owned.  Dishes were often packed in flour and sugar barrels.  Dressers may have started the journey on the wagon, but were often discarded as the wagons became harder to pull across the high prairie.  And, of course, they wanted to take their best dresses.  Husbands, on the other hand, only thought about tools needed to carve out a new home, farm, business, or mine stake, taking enough quilts to keep warm, enough food, and other life-saving items.  In an effort to compromise, women often put on and wore all of the garments they could manage, including several petticoats and multiple dresses.  In spite of traveling with their wagon representing their new start in life, most of the settlers walked to the west.  As a result, their garments were not in very good shape when they arrived.  Not wanting to waste anything, the women cut up their dresses and made into quits.  Thus, the “quilt” was really a dress worn on the long, hard walk to Golden.

My Quilt Finds – Personal Selections

I originally left the museum that day with four quilt top finds.  I chose each of the quilts because of something unique about it.  All were in excellent condition, hand pieced except one with very tiny machine stitching and hand applique.

1860-1880 Applique.  Although with a few little stains, the fabrics in this quilt are in excellent condition and the fabric colors true and not faded.  It is large enough for a twin bed.  This applique pattern is not one that is often seen, it has excellent construction and almost new fabric condition.  I plan to longarm quilt this top with designs that might have been used in the period.  It will make a very nice display piece.

1930’s String Quilt, Star Pattern.  I selected this quilt for several reasons, the fact that it was string pieced by hand, the background fabric is purple, and that the star points cut from the string pieced fabrics are all hand stitched together.  The bonus with this quilt is that there is even some of the newspaper still on the string pieces star points.  A friend who is a quilt appraiser suggested keeping this top in an archival box, taking photos of the newspaper and trying to find out the origin of the newspaper.  I plan to do this as I think it will add to the interest of the top.  I would love to quilt it, but will keep it as is because of the historical nature.

Vintage 5-point Star – Feed Sack Material.  This top caught my attention because of its construction.  The white background feed sack fabrics were stitched together as squares by machine.  There are a couple of places you can see the printing on the material.  The machine stitching is excellent and with a very short stitch length.  The star points and center pentagon are all appliqued to the top.  Then, the fabric was cut out behind the stars.  There are a few water stains, but I think these will wash away.  The fabrics are very strong woven, the stitching, including the hand applique with very tiny stitches is also very strong.  I plan to longarm quilt this twin size with appropriate period designs.

1930’s “Enhanced” or “Improved” Nine-patch.  Looking at this top I am reminded of both a nine-patch and also the double wedding ring because of the melon shaped pieces.  Although not pieced as well as the others because it has long running stitches in the seams and the points do not come together very well in many places, the top is an eclectic mix of a wide range of 1930’s fabrics.  It is indicative of the thirties with both bold and soft colors and the many, many  prints that were available during this time period.  This large top will certainly cover a double or larger bed.  I will be quilting this on the longarm, too, using designs that would have been used in the thirties.

Not Quite Done!

After getting to the car to leave the museum, I reflected on my purchases and decided to go back into the museum and purchase one more quilt that I had seen.  I did not want to get back to my New York home and regret that I had not purchased this one.  This quilt was quite a lot more expensive than any of the others, but it was unusual.  Very large, about king size, the red, green, and yellow prints on white background was a triple Irish chain.  The quilt is beautifully pieced with tiny hand stitched piecing, precisely cut patches, is square, and has an unusual half square triangle border around the whole quilt.  It, like the others, is in excellent condition; it has a few little water stains, but has fabric that can take the quilting, the washing, and could even be used.   Like the others, I will use patterns to enhance the triple Irish chain pattern.

When we traveled to Colorado, I never expected to come home with these treasures.  It goes to show that you never know what you will find.  But, you must always be open to taking advantage of an opportunity as you many never have an opportunity like that again.   Fortunately my husband also saw this as a unique opportunity and encouraged me to take advantage of it, too.  Before we could fly home from Colorado, though, we had to go and purchase another suitcase just to carry our quilt top treasures home.  And, getting back home, what fun there has been for me to share with others this wonderful adventure and the quilt finds from Golden (Colorado).

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Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum – Worth the Trip

Quilt museums are few and far between.  Even regular museums often do not have a quilt collection, or if they do, rarely display that collection.  Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum is a little different.  It is the mission of the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum “to collect, preserve, exhibit, and educate the public about quilts; honor quiltmaking traditions; and embrace the evolution of the art and craft of quilting.”  This is accomplished through exhibits and special events.

Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum

Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, Golden, CO

When we visited RMQM in September (2017) we were privileged to see two wonderful exhibits, the American Quilt Study Group (AQSG) “Civil War Era Quilts” and “Pagtinabangay: Quilts of Caohagan Island.”  Neither exhibit was so large that you couldn’t spend time reading the info plaques and posters explaining the project or display.  It was interesting that these two exhibits were on display at the same time as the quilts varied considerably from each other.  One, of course, documenting American quilts from the 1850’s and 1860’s.  The other displaying the introduction of and growth of quilting into a sustainable means of income for a small group of people on a very small island in the Phillippines.

Civil War Era Quilts

Civil War Era Quilts is the result of an American Quilt Study Group quilt study completed in 2014.  It is a collection of reproduction Civil War Quilts reduced in size to a maximum of 200″ perimeter.  The original quilts were made from 1850 to 1865. It was interesting to read how each quilt study group maker researched that particular quilt and decided how to make a reproduction of it.  Quilt reproduction received much attention to detail using fabrics very similar to original often quilted by hand.  One the makers even went to to the trouble of harvesting cotton by hand, prepared it, and used it as “batting” in the reproduction.

Pagtinabangay: Quilts of Caohagan Island

Introduced to quilting by a Japanese woman who was highly trained in the “art” of quilting, several Caohagan Island residents along with one young girl began to make quilts with fabric brought to them by the Japanese woman.  Slowly others began to take up quilting, even a few men.  When they found that their quilts could be sold, many more began quilting.

Quilters have always been industrious and resourceful people. Quilters use what is available, fabric and fabric scraps, and spend precious time cutting, piecing and quilting. Quilts often reflect the culture and life of those making them. The quilts of Caohagan Island do this, as well, as the “colors and patterns evoke the tropical environs, while the handicraft is of the highest caliber. The results are quilts that evoke a far-away place but retain a human touch to which anyone who views them can relate.”  As I looked at the many quilts on display, it reminded me of the lovely pictorial art my nine year old granddaughter enjoyed drawing.

Worth your time to visit.

If you travel to Colorado, be sure to visit Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum in Golden, Colorado.  You will not be disappointed.

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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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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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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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