Quilt Marking Roundup: Stitching Through Paper

I’m currently teaching Machine Quilting—Master the Basics online at QuiltCampus.com, and one of my students said that the hardest thing was to figure out how to transfer the quilting design to the quilt. I really can’t disagree with that! Quilt marking methods are many and varied as are the tools, and it’s different for every single quilt you make, so it’s not like you can just figure it out once and run with it. It’s a “figure it out” process over and over and over again.

Over the years, I’ve used many different methods, so I thought I’d share some of them here over the course of the next few posts. I can’t tell you how many parts this will have, as I’m just going to start with a couple of the methods I used way back when, and work my way through my bag of techniques and tools. Some of what I’ll share I haven’t used recently for one reason or another, but that’s not to say I won’t ever use a particular technique again, and of course someone else might find it useful.

When I was fairly new to quilting, my goal was to not actually mark on the quilt at all if it could be avoided since I was petrified that the marks wouldn’t wash out, so I spent a great deal of time figuring out how to get the quilting pattern on to the quilt without ever touching an actual marker to the fabric. Continue reading

In the Groove, Sort of…

Last Sunday, I did a little dusting and cleaning up in the studio, and then decided that what I really wanted to do (or needed to do, as the case may be) was some free motion machine quilting. Free motion quilting is something that I find pretty relaxing actually; I can just get in the machine quilting groove and I can let my mind wander a bit while I do it. Seemed like the perfect thing to do since I still couldn’t figure out what I needed to be doing and get back into the groove with everything else after returning from the States.

I purchased a couple of wonderful preprinted blocks for free motion quilting from The Quilting Connection in their booth at the Des Moines AQS Quilt Expo. Their newest blocks are printed on lovely batik fabrics, instead of the more common, plain ivory and white fabrics (though I did get one in ivory as well). I’m contemplating using one of these preprints as a kit for my machine quilting class, so of course I wanted to test it out!

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Inchie Quilts: On the Road and YouTube

This weekend, I’m deep in preparations for my trip to the US in October, as well as a couple of events that are on the calendar for September. Next weekend, I’ll be in Schönaich (near Stuttgart, about an hour south of where I live) for Patchcom’s 9th Annual Quiltfestle on Saturday. Birgit asked me to come to the Quiltfestle and bring my Inchie Quilts, talk about my book, and present some Inchie demos (more on the Quiltfestle later in the week!). I’m also scheduled to demo in the AQS booth at Quilt Market, and will probably need all of these step-by-step materials for workshops, lectures, etc.

So today I prepared step-by-step samples for making Inchies to use for demos, and then as I was edge stitching the Inchies, I got this crazy idea to make a video tutorial of the process! Talk about a complete derailment! Shooting the video was a piece of cake that took less time than writing this post will (despite the fact that it’s a brand new camcorder that I’d never used before), but the whole “how do I put this video on the web” thing took five hours! Seriously! Sheesh! Continue reading

Some Swanky Quilting

Here’s a little more “stream of consciousness” quilting on the Swanky quilt:

quilting design for Swanky
quilting design for Swanky

I drew a loopy little quilt design to coordinate with the border stencil I chose, and then only used part of it! I decided the middle part was okay since it was just four little loopy bits, but the side parts were just too strange looking, like some alien spider thingy maybe. My oh-so-excellent drawing skills were hard at work again!

I found the perfect thread in my stash! Superior Threads Rainbows #808. Just look at it, the perfect combination of colors to go with the Swanky fabrics! I’ve used this type of thread for machine quilting a lot lately, so I was expecting it to be easy to quilt with. It wasn’t, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Hobbs Thermore has been my batting of choice since Hobbs Bonded Fibers was generous enough to donate a queen-size package of it to me when I was at Quilt Market last October. Did you know that Hobbs also makes fibers for industries other than quilting? One of their newest products called Fibertect is “A three layer, inert, flexible, drapable, nonwoven composite substrate for decontamination that is effective in neutralizing and adsorbing toxic chemical agents potentially used in chemical warfare, toxic industrial chemicals, and pesticides.” Wow! Interesting…next time I need to clean house, I’ll know where to go for my outfit!

Anyway, Thermore is my favorite batting right now. From Hobbs: “This unique and patented product was developed as a thin, drapable, migration free polyester batt. ” Yup, that “migration free” part is why. After I tried Quilter’s Dream and it was bearding like crazy, I switched to Thermore and found that Hobbs doesn’t lie. Thermore just doesn’t beard, period.

But like all battings when they come out of the package, it’s a bit wrinkly and crinkly, so I’ve just been laying it on the ironing board and steaming it before basting. Just float the iron over it, not actually touching it, with the steam function cranked up to high and then smooth the wrinkles out with your hand as you go. Flip and repeat for the other side if necessary. You can also pop it into the dryer on low heat for five or ten minutes, but my dryer is two floors down so I use the iron on small pieces.

Since all the quilts I’ve been making lately are pretty small, I’ve been pin basting (with straight pins, not safety pins) instead of my usual trick with the tagging gun. I really like the pin basting because the holes are smaller! It’s also just quicker to pin it than get out the gun and the tags on something smallish.

I think I’ve also solved the “human pincushion” issue when using straight pins. I call these my Basting Buddies! They’re little caps that fit on the ends of the straight pins, so they keep the sharp ends from putting holes in me and they keep the pins from slipping out of the quilt as it’s moved around during machine quilting. It’s just as easy to get these on and off the pins as it would be to close and open safety pins, maybe even easier, and the point quality is much higher on a straight pin than it is on a safety pin, so it’s better for your fabrics.

I love the way the quilting turned out on this little quilt! Simple and easy quilting designs, but totally effective! But the quilting itself was NOT easy. I think this spool of Rainbows thread is some of the original version, and Superior Threads changed the thread slightly a few years ago and made it better. The newer spools that I have are quite easy to machine quilt with; I’d even say as easy as quilting with cotton, but the thread on this particular spool shredded and broke a lot during quilting. It happened so often that I was getting really frustrated with it, and I usually don’t get that way! Well, not about machine quilting anyway! I did get through it, but if I need this color combination of Rainbows thread again, I’ll probably just buy a new spool.

All in all, this was a really fun little quilt to make. I still have some more pictures that I took of the process, some while fitting the border quilting design (since Joyce asked) and some while hand stitching the binding down with a ladder stitch. I’ll share these in the next week or so!

Let’s Talk Machine Quilting (and a Giveaway!)

I treated myself today, and spent a little while machine quilting on a small quilt. Many of my projects these days are small-ish, and I’m really enjoying the machine quilting breaks that come along every few days. (If you’ve been following along, you’ll probably be able to figure out why most of my projects these days are on the small side… :) ) I’ve spent years making these huge, long and involved show quilts, where they take forever to piece, then forever to mark for quilting, and then when I finally get to the quilting part, it’s just so huge that it’s daunting. That’s not to say that it’s not enjoyable (mostly), but making smaller projects, where I can piece a little, mark a little, and then quilt the thing is just a really nice change.

And I do mean “treat myself” when I talk about machine quilting. It’s my favorite part of quilting, hands down. It’s just so cool to see a flat piece of fabric take on texture and dimension and life when it’s quilted. I love playing with all the cool threads I’ve collected over the years, like this variegated one:

Rainbows thread from Superior Threads

Which looks like this when quilted:

Rainbows thread from Superior Threads

Rainbows thread from Superior Threads



How fun is this? For the curious, the thread is Superior Threads Rainbows, which is a Trilobal Polyester, 40wt., color #801, with 50 wt. Mettler Silk Finish in a blue that matches the fabric in the bobbin; the fabric is an old Nancy Crow design that looks like crushed suede, with a scene from a Laurel Burch Fanciful Felines panel; batting is Quilter’s Dream Poly Request Loft; the quilting stencil is the continuous line 4″ Dancing Flowers by Judy Allen.

Rainbows thread from Superior Threads

Rainbows thread from Superior Threads



Another thing I like about small quilts is that I can quickly pin-baste on the cutting table with flower head pins and they don’t get caught up in the free motion foot since the heads are flat against the quilt. With large quilts, I spend hours crawling around on the floor basting with the basting gun, and then I’m just wiped out for the rest of the day when it’s done. You can pin-baste just about anything up to a certain size, as long as it’s not so big that you become a human pincushion while trying to push it through the machine. Heck, if you’ve been sewing all your life and a few pinpricks don’t even faze you anymore, you could pin-baste even larger quilts this way. ;)

I realize that not everyone feels this way about machine quilting, and some folks don’t find free motion quilting to be relaxing at all. So let’s have a chat about that, shall we? What don’t you like about machine quilting? What’s the part that you feel like you just can’t get right? If you do like machine quilting, and you have wisdom or a fabulous tip to share, let’s hear about that too!

I’m going to send a copy of the Machine Quilting—Master the Basics Workshop on CD to one lucky reader. To enter the drawing leave a comment on this post and share some of your machine quilting wisdom and great tips, or if you need help with machine quilting, leave a question that you’d like me to discuss in a future post. A winner will be chosen by random drawing this Saturday. Luck to all!

All Night Parties and the Eternal Quest for Visibility

I was out half the night partying on Saturday and let me tell you, the body paid for it the next day. Talk about suffering! I had a headache, and my back was killing me, along with my forearms. This is what happens when you overdo as we all know, and no, I’m not looking for sympathy! We had a great time, so no regrets at all.

This is really all about machine quilting until the wee hours (when I haven’t been machine quilting at all for a while!), and having my body complain vociferously the next day. I have these wimpy forearms that don’t like too much repetitive motion or stress, and then I abused them badly. Not only that, I was sitting at a table that was too high so that didn’t help either. So the forearms are botched for a bit until they recover.

The other problem is the neck and back, which probably caused the headache too. See, the biggest issue is the machine itself. These machines are just not made for people like me, with a long upper body. I’ve looked for solutions before, but the tilt table idea didn’t work well for machine quilting with the Bernina. The Bernina has the same problem as the Pfaff: the machine head is so big that it obstructs the view of the needle and surrounding area when my chair and table are at the right height for machine quilting. I end up hunching down in the chair so that I can see the needle area better, which is no good for the back. This is what I see if I’m sitting up straight(er) in the chair when I machine quilt:

View of Bernina needle area when machine quilting

Heh, you see that? (See what?) Exactly. I can barely see the free motion foot, much less the needle, and anything behind it is a total loss. This is why I usually sit too low so I can see better, and hunch down as well, which places even more stress on my arms and back than machine quilting does to begin with. I finally got frustrated with the whole thing between the back pain and the arm pain and all, and removed the cover from the machine head to get all that white plastic out of my way:

Bernina needle with machine head cover removed

Oh look! There’s the needle! And I can even see some of the space behind it! Okay, it’s still difficult because of all the parts in the way, but it really did help some to remove the plastic cover from the head of the machine. Maybe I won’t have to hunch down quite so far in the chair to see where I’m going with the quilt. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this and it’s not the perfect solution by any means, but it was better than the alternatives that ran through my head, which would have required more than a screwdriver and probably would have been more permanent. I will put the cover back on when I’m not quilting to keep the dust out (and also keep the cat from sticking his nose in there), and perhaps I’ll be in a little less pain. At the end of the day though, what I really want to know is when the heck are machine manufacturers going to get it together and build a better mousetrap machine?