I'm going to finish up this series talking about the ultimate blankets: charity quilts. When I bought my first longarm it arrived the week before Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and Alabama. You may remember that there was a huge quilt drive for Katrina quilts. I think that actually got really out of hand but I saw a great opportunity to practice on my new longarm and jumped right in. I bought a couple of quilt tops off eBay and got a few from my guild members.
I'm happy to tell you that I don't have any photos of those quilts. The quilting was pretty awful but they got done and I got practice!
New longarm owners often seek out charity quilts for practice and that's a great thing but you have to be careful that your charity quilting doesn't start to overwhelm you.
Set some rules around your charity quilting.
I quilt a lot of charity quilts for my quilt club. We donate lap size quilts to the local VA hospital. We've been doing it for several years and finish about 60 quilts each year. I decided that quilting them would be my contribution to charity quilting in addition to making 2 QOV quilts each year. I quilt up to 40 of the veterans quilts each year and I'm able to do that because I set some rules. Before you accept your first charity quilt you need to set some rules too or else you will be set up for burn out.
Here are my rules for the quilters:
Here are my rules for myself:
I don't have any problems with people trying to guilt me into quilting. Several of our members make quilts for other organizations. I don't quilt those quilts. Occasionally we make a large raffle quilt and I don't quilt those either. I've set the veterans quilts as my contribution.
You cannot do everything. Maybe your contribution will be baby quilts for the local hospital or the one raffle quilt that your guild makes every year or pet pads for the local shelter. Find the cause that is meaningful for you and doable with your schedule and focus on that. Here's what you say to everyone else:
"I'm sorry, I have quilts to fill my charity quota for the year. Do you want me to put you on the list for next year? I can call you when I'm ready to take another if you still have it them."
"I'm sorry, I can't commit to that deadline. I do charity quilts when I have time between my customer/personal quilts. It could be as long as 6 months before I can get to it."
"No, I'm sorry, I don't custom quilt charity quilts. I select the design and thread. If you need a specific design you will likely have to pay someone to quilt it for you."
It's also perfectly OK for you to decline to do any charity quilting. Do not let anyone guilt you into doing any quilt that you don't want to do.
Be firm about your rules to maintain your sanity. Remember that you are doing someone a favor. No one has any right to use your time for free without your full willingness.
I hope you've enjoyed the series this week. As I said Monday, this is a series that I've been wanting to writes for a long time. It's all the information that I wish someone has told me when I bought my first longarm in 2005.
In a couple of weeks I'll move all of these posts over to the tutorial section of the web so that they will be easier to find. On Monday we will be back to regular programming!
One of the cool things about getting into longarm quilting is that you are open to a whole new world of classes and tools to buy. I've been to Machine Quilter's Expo, Machine Quilter's Showcase (now defunct) and Birds of a Feather. I've bought dozens of quilting DVD's and watched hours of YouTube videos. I love the shows because there are so many classes to take in one weekend and so many kindred spirits to meet. But if you sign up for 3 full days of classes you can get very overwhelmed.
Be wary when you hear "this is the ONLY way to do this".
Listen to what the teachers have to say but remember that what they are teaching is what they figured out worked for them. That might or might not work for you but you have just learned another option to try.
Pick one thing from each class you take to practice.
Classes are only good if you practice what you learn. To get the most out of classes pick one thing from each class that you want to practice. WRITE IT DOWN at the class on a "NEXT PRACTICE" list. Then go home and load up some blankets and try them out.
I can't tell you how many classes I've taken that I never practiced. That's nothing but wasted money. Now I often prefer to buy one video, watch it a couple of times and then practice right away. I still go to shows because I love to network with other longarm quilters and I do take a few classes to learn specific things. I have even taken classes specifically to get the opportunity to try different brands of quilt machines. When you go to shows and classes set some goals for yourself ahead of time so you pick smart classes and set aside some practice time right after the show.
Find your own groove. You can't be great at everything.
As you go to quilt shows and study quilts online start paying attention to collections of quilts by different quilters. This is a photo of a quilt by Margaret Soloman Gunn that I took at Mid-Atlantic Quilt Show in 2016. Margaret has a very distinctive style. Bethanne Nemesch has a very distinctive style. So does Marilyn Badger, Jamie Wallen and Judi Madsen. They all have individual and identifiable styles.
The problem is that we take classes from all of them and then expect that we should be able to quilt like all of them. That's impossible!
This came to a head for me over leaves. Jamie Wallen's leaves to be specific. I love Jamie. He's a great teacher and I have several of his DVD's. He appropriately calls his style of quilting "mystical" and that perfectly describes it. I have tried over and over and over to quilt his leaves and his style of quilting.
I can't do it. It's just now how I think. I'm a better quilter because of what I've learned from him but you can't really see his influence in my quilting. That's OK.
I can't do Jamie's leaf but I can do MY leaf. This is my leaf. All of my leaves look like this.
While I love the fantastical quilting of Jamie and Bethanne and the formal feathers of Margaret, my true love is ruler work and fills. That's the kind of quilting that is joyful for me so that's pretty much all I do on my "quilts". I still experiment on blankets and I'll occasionally add some feathers but I stay pretty well set in my groove.
Take classes from teachers with all kinds of expertise. You will pick up nuggets of helpful information from all of them. But if what they are doing seems torturous for you then that's not for you and you just learned something!.
It's also OK if your groove is wavy lines. You can quilt every quilt forever with wavy lines. I know a quilter who basically does that. Her quilts are about the color, value and pattern of her quilts. The quilting is utilitarian. She still has a longarm and it does for her exactly what she wants it to. Don't pressure yourself. It's a tool and you need to make it work for you.
So, you've been practicing your quilting and are getting more comfortable with your machine and starting to really like what you are quilting.
Then you go to a quilt show and see this.
These are photos of quilts that I took at the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival in 2016. I like to collect photos of details instead of whole quilts to store up quilting motif ideas. But the risk of doing this is that you start comparing your quilting to these and think you will never be this good.
Don't compare your quilting to others. Only compare your next quilt to the last one.
Back to the car analogy, NASCAR drivers didn't become NASCAR drivers in high school. The spend hours and hours working to build their racing skills. The same applies to the award-winning quilters. We tend to forget that they have hundreds of quilts under their belts that they had to quilt to be able to do the one that won Best of Show. That quilt that you are looking at didn't just take the hours they spent on it. It also took the two hundred quilts that came before it to be able to do it and a few of those were probably simple stippled quilts.
I have a quilt planned that I want to do some complex Spirograph motifs on. The thought of jumping in on that quilt overwhelmed me.
I decided to start easy with this Quilt of Valor. (I practice a lot on charity quilts.)
I started with some very simple motifs to get some experience with different ruler sizes and controlling my movement of the ruler.
Next I did this little quilt that has a little more complex motifs. Then I'm going to do a larger mandala and THEN I'll be ready for the "real" quilt.
If you are contemplating a quilt that you are procrastinating on that means that you aren't quite ready to do it. Write down the elements that you want to put in the quilt and identify the ones you aren't yet comfortable with and then pull out some of those blankets (or charity quilts) and start building the skills.
When you are at shows take all the photos you want for ideas but don't ever compare your work to theirs until you are at a point of preparing to enter shows yourself.
Hopefully after yesterday's post you have accepted that it's OK to practice on some of your real quilts. Today we are going to talk about some tips to make practicing as stress-free as possible and we are going to start with my personal quilting motto.
Crappy quilting, done consistently, looks great!
I know that sounds funny, but it's true.
Let's say that you are practicing spirals but your spirals are more square than round. No worries. If you will follow these simple tips for your practice pieces your quilt recipients will never know that you were learning on their blanket.
Pick a thread that blends and start with "easy" threads
When you are first starting out and practicing on your blankets, don't make the thread a feature of the quilt. Select a thread color that blends so that when the quilt is washed you will just see texture. Also don't get carried away trying a lot of different kinds of threads. Remember, your focus is on learning the machine and building brain and muscle memory. Don't add any other unnecessary complications like finicky threads. Great threads to start with include:
Polyester threads don't break as frequently as cotton threads and a thinner thread will not be as visible.
Don't rip out mistakes, no one else will notice them.
Unless you can see the mistake from 5 feet away no one else will notice it.
For the first 5 years of my quilting I ripped out every tiny bobble. You can imagine how long it took me to quilt a quilt! After giving away a few quilt blankets and hearing what people said about them I realized that no one looked at my quilting. They cared about the color and snuggle-ability and that's it.
You already know how to rip out stitches so unless the tension is way off or the mistake is an accidental 10" line across the quilt, leave it and continue working on what you wanted to learn.
Add a skill with each quilt.
Don't try to learn 15 new things with every quilt. Add one new skill with each quilt so you can focus on that particular skill.
Let's say that your first quilt was straight lines and now you want to start moving the machine diagonally.
Then for your next quilt you can add some diagonal lines to the straight line. This pattern is really simple and is a great one to practice diagonal movement, getting sharp corners and meeting lines at a point.
Think about the "real" quilt that you want to do first, identify all of the skills you will need to quilt it the way you want and then plan enough blankets to build the skills to quilt that quilt. Once you and your longarm have become one with each other you might want to do a quilt with stitch in the ditch and feathers. I'd apprach that by loading one quilt that square and SID the whole thing. The load another quilt and feather it to death. In both cases pick threads that will blend and don't sweat the mistakes.
DO NOT POINT OUT YOUR MISTAKES!
Yes, that's in all caps and I'm yelling it. Do not ever give a quilt to someone and start pointing out all of the things that are wrong with it.
Mom and I made this quilt for a wedding gift for my nephew and his new wife. When I quilted it I did a poor job of basting and wound up with 2 big pleats in the back. I did not rip out the stitching. I hand stitched down the pleats and gave the quilt to the young couple. They loved it. Maybe they will someday find the pleat, maybe not. It doesn't matter. By then they will have turned it into a blanket and it will be like my blanket that I shared Monday. They will love it flaws and all.
Don't point out your mistakes at guild Show-And-Tell either. Tell people why you quilted it and what you learned and be proud of a finish.
Before I talk about my second nugget of advice we first have to talk about blankets and quilts.
I have heard many quilters get incensed when someone calls a gifted quilt a "blanket". I remember reading a blog post from a quilter who declared that she would never give a family member another quilt simply because the recipient referred to it as a blanket. Memes with the similar sentiments pop up on Facebook from time to time.
This is the quilt that my Great-Grandmother made for me when I was very young. She made quilts for all of her Grandchildren and Great-Grandchildren.
This quilt was on my bed every day from the time I received it (in the early 1960's) until I went to college. It was my blanket. It is the reason that I remember my Great-Grandmother as a quilter. Even worn and tattered I can't get rid of it. I think of her every time I see it. It's not a masterpiece but it's more special to me than any piece of art I own. I will, someday, think of some way to cut it up and make something from the remaining good parts. My brother continued to use his until it completely wore out. I had to put a new binding on it around 1999 and he finally had to give up on it about 5 years ago and start using a new quilt that Mom made for him.
To me quilts are precious but blankets are love. When I give quilts to people I tell them that my wish is that they use the quilt to death. I want them to need the blanket when they are sick, to nap on it with their pets and kids and I want the kids to drag their blankets around everywhere until their parents are sick of seeing it.
The cool thing about making blankets is that we also don't have to be precious about how we quilt them. Of course they need to be well constructed but they don't need quilt show quality quilting.
Practice on blankets, not practice fabric.
As quilters we are often afraid that we will "ruin" a quilt with our not-so-stellar quilting. Well, I have yet to meet a quilter that didn't have a stack of quilts meant to be gifts. Wouldn't it be better to quilt these and gift them so that some of them might eventually become blankets? It's a lot more fun to quilt a quilt than to practice over and over with muslin. No one is in a hurry to get to the machine to quilt a piece of muslin.
Several years ago I was finally ready to start learning to quilt feathers. A piece of muslin wasn't going to be enough. I needed a LOT of practice and a whole quilt was the best way. I found this one in my stash of tops, picked a blending thread and quilted feathers over the whole surface. The feathers were garbage at the beginning but by the end they looked much better. I didn't need a class, I needed practice.
This quilt is now owned by my youngest brother and it's his sofa blanket. He curls up with it to watch TV and nap in the winter. If you called him today he could not tell you how this quilt was quilted He likes it because of the colors and because it's soft and warm. Get the color right and make it soft and no one will even notice how you quilted it.
Practicing on quilts has 3 big benefits:
This week I'm hijacking my own blog with a series of posts that I've been wanting to do for a long time.
When I bought my first longarm in 2005 it was shipped to the end of my 600' driveway. I had to drive down in the pickup truck, load everything off the delivery truck and onto my truck. Chris and I then hauled all of the parts to the basement and I spent the next 2 days putting it together. At the end of that process I was suddenly a longarm quilter. I had no classes and no dealer to call for help. I did have the web and that was very helpful but for the rest I just winged it.
Before the longarm I had owned the earliest version of the HandiQuilter frame and I had my Juki TL-98E on it with a whopping 9" of throat space. Because of that I knew some basics but there were a lot of things I learned the hard way.
By October 8, 2014 when my beloved FloMo arrived I was a pretty seasoned quilter and I almost didn't take the free new owners class that Virginia Longarm offers. But I felt that, at a minimum, it would give me a chance to get to know my dealer better. Of course the class was a lot more than that. I became much more comfortable with the machine and how it operates. I learned the benefits of basting my quilts instead of doing a full floats and I learned a LOT about managing tension.
I fell so in love with the machine that I was constantly emailing Val photos of my beautiful, perfect stitches. Through building the relationship with Val and Michele at Virginia Longarm/The Longarm Network, it eventually came to pass that I started teaching a day of the new-owner training. They had decided to add a day that focused on using the machine free motion and I was, and am, excited to be able to teach it.
But that one day class is not just about free-motion quilting motifs. It's also about removing fear so that the quilter can get to quilting. I designed the class to be the class that I had needed when I started quilting.
The first part of the class covers my advice nuggets for new longarmers and I'm going to spend this week discussing those nuggets int he hope that it might help other new owners out there.
Nugget 1 - Take time to get yourself and your body comfortable with the machine
When I first learned to drive my Dad insisted that I learn on a stick shift Jeep that looked a lot like this one. That car was hard to drive for a seasoned driver but he told me that if I could drive it then I would be able to drive anything. He was also a wise teacher. He took me to a farm where the only thing I could hit was a cow and they were smart enough to stay away. For hours I drove back and forth learning how to change gears, how to turn around and how to drive in reverse. My left leg was sore from working the clutch the first time. Dad did not expect me to drive on a highway, on a windy road or at night. He made sure that I started by simply becoming comfortable with the car and training my body to coordinate the movements I needed for driving.
That's exactly how we need to approach quilting on a new longarm. As new drivers we did not expect to enter a NASCAR race the week after we got our license. So why do we expect to quilt perfect quilts right away? Maybe it's because we are already seasoned quilters and maybe even great free-motion quilters on our domestic machines. But the longarm is completely different. It's like going from a bicycle to a car. It's a totally new things and you have to honor the learning curve.
When you get your new machine you need to first learn the machine and start building some muscle memory. You have to get comfortable threading it, setting and maintaining good tension, winding bobbins properly and learning to quilt and walk at the same time.
You also have to learn some ergonomics. When I started learning to drive I kept a death grip on the steering wheel because I didn't want the car to get away from me. As a result I built up a lot of tension in my body in those early sessions. But as I got more comfortable with my driving ability I was able to relax a bit behind the wheel.
The same applies to the longarm. New owners tend to hold on way too tight so they build up a lot of tension in their shoulders, arms and backs and their quilting lines are not smooth. As with driving, it simply takes practice for you and your longarm to become one together.
So what's a good way to learn your new machine?
Start with lines
Quilt your first quilt (or quilts) with lines. Straight lines or wavy lines, whatever makes you happy. Ergonomically you will be forced to relax. You cannot quilt good straight or soft wavy lines if you are tense.
Quilting is a balance between the brain setting up the pattern and the arm following it. New quilters are often out of sync between brain and arm and it's usually the brain that's following behind the arm and that always leads to quilting we don't like. We have drawn lines all of our lives so this give the brain a chance to get to know what the arm is doing and to build that communication path. It also give you time to get to know the machine. Ripping out one line of stitching because of bad tension is easy compared to ripping out a row of swirls. Quilting a whole quilt walking back and forth quilting lines will help you get to know each other and start bonding.
You will get used to the sounds of the machine, your posture, the connection between you and the machine and start to get comfortable managing threads and tension.
Today's post is for the longarmers, especially the new longarmers starting to use zippered leaders. I posted last month about how I use a stapler to load my quilts to the longarm leaders.
When I teach at Virginia Longarm I have to bring practice quilt sandwiches. At the end of class I take the practice pieces off the zippers for the students to take home. Removing staples takes a bit of time but, more importantly, they aren't particularly thrilled to have staples loose in the showroom. There's a risk that one finds it's way in the middle of a customer quilt.
I needed to come up with a better way. I remembered that my serger has a chain stitch and that would be perfect. Today I posted a little tutorial for how I use the serger (or a regular sewing machine) to stitch a quilt back to leaders. Press the button to read the tutorial if you are interested.
This is the quilt that the Misty Morning gradient was designed for. You can read all about it in my 2017 gallery.
Here's another of the back with the color better.
It's washed and dried now and all that's left is the Zentangle label.
As a general rule I don't make any of the veterans quilts that Country School donates, I just quilt them. But occasionally I have just the right amount of leftovers to put one together and that's the case with this one. Some of you may remember my Crossing The Drunkard's Path quilt-along that I hosted in 2015. I made a few DP quilts and one of them was in every shade of brown hand dyed that I had in my stash. You can see the original quilt top on the old blog. I had spent a lot of time making all of these DP blocks and I wasn't going to waste them. There weren't enough by themselves for a veteran's size quilt so I dyed a gradient for a border and even had a 4-patch for the top corner. I really love how this one turned out. I love the big one too and will quilt it soon.
My rule is that veterans quilts get simple quilting and that's what I wanted with this. But I also wanted something that would at least reference the curves in the block. Baptist Fans came immediately to mind but that is not a fast quilting motif. Then I remembered a filler design that I learned from Leah Day's book. She calls it Echo Shortcut. I use it a lot in tiny fill quilting but is there any reason it can't be done big?
Any fill pattern can be done big and I know I'll use this one again and again.
Here's a photo of it on the frame. The only thing the least bit fiddly about this is that I worked each row left to right. I quilted the whole thing in about an hour and a half.
The back of this one is a nice bit of serendipity. I custom dyed a back for a customer and, once done, realized that I had mixed one color wrong. I made another for her and got the nice one to keep for myself. It worked out perfect for this quilt.
Last week's post about showing how I staple my quilt back to zippers brought a lot of comments to see how I use the zippers and I'm here to please.
On the longarm, the backing is attached to rollers by canvas leaders. When I got my first longarm the only way that people did this was by pinning the backing directly to the leader and that's how I did it for years. Then some smart woman figured out that she could sew half a long zipper (like those used in sleeping bags) to the canvas and pin her backing to the other half and then easily zip the backing to the canvas.
In this photo I have a white zipper on the canvas and my backing is stapled to a black zipper.
When I pinned toe leaders I had 3 problems:
- I had to stand over the machine to do it and that causes some back strain
- I used corsage pins and I got stuck - a lot
- If I needed to remove the quilt to work on another I had to unpin and re-pin. Zipping on and off is so much easier!
The other side of the backing has one too!
I'm really just including this photo because I like to look at this backing fabric. It was a fabric I custom dyed for a customer and I made a mistake in one of the colors. I dyed her a new one and kept this one for myself. I love it.
I have several sets of zippers and I keep them paired properly because I've marked a center mark on each pair. When I staple the backing to the zipper I start in the center and work my way out. That way I know the quilt will stay square on the frame.
Stapling is not a very popular method of attaching backing to the zippers. Most people worry about getting a staple caught in the quilt. But do 2 things to help prevent that. I staple the back to the leaders in my sewing room on my cutting table. (This saves my back and is much easier than doing it at the machine). I remove the staples in the living room while watching TV so that keeps them away from either sewing space. I don't rip them out. I use a staple remover so I can keep up with each one.
The trick is finding the stapler. This one is a vintage Swingline that my Mom gave me and I bought a spare one in case this one dies. These are called "hand grip staplers" and you can find then where vintage things are sold, like Etsy and Ebay. I think Swingline actually still makes a "soft grip" curved stapler. You have to have the curved bottom so that it can accommodate the zipper teeth when you press the staple in. A regular flat bottom stapler will not work.
Staples are not required. At The Longarm Network, where I teach, they use giant safety pins. Some people still use corsage pins. Others stitch their backs to the zippers with a machine basting stitch or a chain stitch on the serger.
Different strokes for different folks.
The biggest advantage is that I can prep several quilt backs at a time and, if I wanted, I could baste them all and then quilt them in any order. I could even zip 2 back together if I wanted to baste 2 quilts at once and then remove both and load whichever one I wanted to quilt first.
The downside is that if I get stuck on a quilt it's rally easy to unzip it and let it sit unfinished for a year or more. That happened with my Non Unus Pluma quilt. It hung over the back of a chair using up a set of zippers for over a year before I got the nerve to finish quilting it.
There you have it. The mystery of the zippers is solved!
People looking for a third option should check out Red Snappers. A lot of people like them too.
I'm Vicki Welsh and I've been making things as long as I can remember. I used to be a garment maker but transitioned to quilts about 20 years ago. Currently I'm into fabric dyeing, quilting, Zentangle, fabric postcards, fused glass and mosaic. I document my adventures here.
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