Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Four's a Charm - Let's Free Motion

Ready for the next installment of Four's a Charm? It's time to free motion quilt our sandwich!

Let's start with some basics for those of you who have never free motion quilted before, like what the heck is free motion quilting? It's free because the feed dogs on your machine are lowered, meaning the sewing machine isn't controlling the movement of the fabric. This puts you in charge of moving the quilt sandwich around to get your desired design, hence the motion.

Free motion quilting is a bit intimidating, so if you've never done it before consider practicing on a couple of test sandwiches.
    Another good idea is to check out online classes or videos. I picked up an excellent book at the library recently called Free-Motion Machine Quilting by Don Linn. This book contains tons of good advice and is definitely worth reading.

    Feeling confident? Great. Let's get our supplies together. Here's what we'll need:
    • a darning foot
    • quilting gloves
    • an extension table (maybe not required but extremely helpful)
    • cotton thread. I'm using Aurifil Cotton Mako 40 weight thread in gray #2605 - but Gutermann works great, too, and is easier to find
    • a few filled bobbins. Free motion quilting uses lots of thread, so be ready!
    • pillows or blankets or towels to sit if you don't have an adjustable height office chair
    • a fresh sewing needle, ideally size 14 topstitch needles, but just about any universal needle will work if it's new and sharp

    Start by lowering the feed dogs on your machine. Those are the little teeth on the foot plate that move the fabric under the needle.

    Set your stitch length to 0.

    We're going to start sewing at the center of the quilt and work in quadrants. Here's a diagram of the basic meander stitch I'm using and the path I'm taking starting at the center:

    Notice how I change direction in quadrant 4. If quilting starts to feel awkward and you're having difficulty managing the sandwich, it's probably time for change in direction. While the switch direction is obvious in my diagram, it won't be noticeable at all on the finished quilt.

    One last thing before we begin. It's okay to free motion in and out of the edges of the quilt even though that's not obvious from my drawing.

    Not only is it okay to stitch beyond the top, it's encouraged!
    Roll up two sides of the sandwich then slide the under the needle until you get to the center of the quilt.

    Holding the tail of the needle thread, bring the needle down into the sandwich and then back up again just one time. Pull on the tail until the bobbin thread comes up through the sandwich. Use the tip of your scissors or a pair of tweezers to pull the bobbin thread completely out.

    Move the threads out of the way the best you can then make 3 or 4 stitches in the same spot where you pulled out the bobbin thread to anchor your stitches.

    Place your gloved hands on either side of the needle and gently start moving the sandwich while you sew, creating your desired pattern. If your machine has a speed control function, use it. Start on the slow speed and work your way up to medium as your skill increases. It's easy to feel out of control when you're sewing too fast. Speed control really helps mitigate this problem.

    The trick to free motion quilting is finding just the right sewing speed and just the right speed with your hands. When these two forces are out of whack, stitches can be either too long or too short. Long stitches mean you're moving too fast compared to the speed of the needle. Super short stitches are caused by the opposite - moving too slowly while the needle is moving too fast.

    Remove your pins as you go, stopping often. If you can program your machine to stop in the needle down position this makes stopping and starting again much easier. Needle up/needle down is definitely a luxury of newer machines. If you don't have it, turn the hand wheel until your needle is planted into the sandwich whenever you stop.

    Plan ahead so you don't get trapped in a corner.
    Once the top is completely quilted, bury the threads in the sandwich. Here's a cool technique I found on YouTube:

    Here are a few free motion tips worth mentioning:
    • Sit up high. Your elbows should ideally be at 45 degree angle to your body.
    • Good lighting is a must
    • Take plenty of breaks
    • Take off your shoes. You'll have greater control in bare or stocking feet.
    • Keep your shoulders relaxed
    • Don't sweat the mistakes. Once the quilt is washed all those little imperfections will magically disappear.
    Yippee! We're almost done with our Four's a Charm quilt. In the next (and last) installment we'll cover how to bind the quilt. 

    To find all the posts in the series click here.

    As always, please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions. Happy sewing!

    Wednesday, March 14, 2012

    W.I.P. Wednesday - Wonky Stars

    We're having the craziest weather here in Minnesota. It's not even the middle of March and it's 73 degrees and sunny. It's absolutely gorgeous and the kids love being outside, but it's also kind of weird. This is June weather for us. March is typically characterized by wet, sloppy snow and miserably gray days. In other words, the perfect sewing weather.

    I haven't made much progress on my W.I.P. pile thanks to the beautiful weather, but I did piece another top to add to the pile of unfinished quilts (hooray for me!). Months ago I won the Minneapolis Modern Quilt Guild block lotto. I finally pieced the blocks together this week with 3/4" narrow sashing. What do you think? I think it looks so cool. It's great fun working with other people's blocks.

    Wonky/Maverick Star Quilt Top as modeled by our neighbor, E.

    I'm planning to use the same pink plaid fabric for the binding. Once the quilt is finished it's off to Project Linus :)

    Wednesday, March 7, 2012

    Buried Under a Pile of WIP's

    Do you ever feel like you can't finish anything? That's how I've been feeling lately. My WIP pile is so large it's threatening to bury me alive. When I get stuck in one of these ruts I like to make (and finish) a really small project. Mug rug to the rescue!

    I'm dying to finish up the Four's a Charm series, but I'm still getting to know my new sewing machine. Here she is. Isn't she a beauty?

    It's been an adventure getting used to the thread cutter on the foot control, but I think I've got the hang of it now. I miss my 1/4" piecing foot on my Janome, but I'm sure the seam guide will start to feel second nature soon. So far I've pieced a placemat and a mug rug with the Juki. Then I did a straight line whole cloth quilt with one of my favorite fabric prints of all times. It's called "Around the World" by Alexander Henry. I found this piece in the remnants bin at Bolt in Portland, Oregon. I knew right away that I couldn't go home without it.

    Last night I stayed up late meandering on this placemat -

    This machine quilts so beautifully. The stitches are just so dang perfect!

    This afternoon I practiced more complicated free motion stuff while my daughter napped. I clearly need some practice.

    Please don't judge. I'm no expert.

    I definitely see a few more mug rugs and placemats in my future before I hit the giant WIP pile.

    If you need me, I'm buried under a pile of fabric.

    Happy crafting,

    Friday, March 2, 2012

    An Ode to Eleanor

    Today would have been my grandmother's birthday. She was born in 1919.  Eleanor was an avid, and I mean avid, seamstress and quilter. Now that I look back on it, I'm pretty sure she sewed damn near everything she wore. And she crocheted, and she embroidered. Everything she cooked and baked was delicious. Her house was neat and well appointed. She was certainly a woman of her generation.

    Eleanor didn't have an easy life, though. She had two daughters and two sons, both of whom were born with Muscular Dystrophy. Much of her time was dedicated to attending to the very labor-intensive needs of her boys. She wasn't lucky in love, either. Her first husband (my late grandfather) was cruel man and she eventually divorced him. She married her second husband for security, not for love, and it wasn't a happy marriage by any stretch of the imagination.

    So, I envision her finding joy and escape in her beloved "yard goods." I can still remember her face lighting up with delight when she purchased a beautiful piece of fabric. My dear grandmother had an amazing eye for beauty. She understood the value of things and cared for them accordingly.

    I have a number of little treasures that belonged to my grandma, but this is the only one that came with a letter. It reads:

    Dear Annik,
    I know how much you like beads, so I want you to have my amber necklace. I was 12 years old when my brother, Raymond Fults, brought them home to me.

    It was May, 1931 when he was out of the U.S. Navy. He got them while in Panama. Traded for a pair of ladies' pajamas, silk ones! The other sailor wanted the P.J.'s real bad and my brother did not want to sell them. But the sailor said come back to my locker and maybe we can make a trade. They did!

    I have cherished and loved those beads all these years. Wear them and enjoy them.

    Your Grandmother,
    Eleanor Fults O'Neill

    I was in college when she died, so she never knew that I inherited the love of all things sewing and fabric. Regardless, I feel connected to her every time I sit down to my sewing machine.

    I've spent the last week learning my about my new sewing machine - getting used to it much like a new car. Last night I started straight line quilting a whole cloth quilt with a solid backing.

    Look at the quilt my grandma made for me before I was born (notice the gender neutral sashing!) -

    The same machine sewn diamond pattern. And the backing is a solid. I just love those sweet faces. I bet I was entranced by them when I was a baby.

    Every time I went to visit my grandma, she would always tell me that I was her favorite granddaughter. To which I would always follow up with, "but I'm your only granddaughter!" Now that I'm a mother, I tell my dear sweet Gwen, "you're my favorite daughter." She's too young to understand that she's my only daughter, but it always makes me smile.

    Now I'm off to shed a few tears of sadness but also profound gratitude that Eleanor was part of my life for 20 years.