So to start on a real down note- 2014 has been pretty terrible to me. I know all around everyone I've talked to in the past few weeks has been having a rough 'go of it', but this year has really been a tough one. My grandma slowly slipped away from us and finally lost her battle just a couple of weeks ago. My son was fairly serially injured (thank goodness he's now perfectly fine) and there have been challenges I haven't had to deal with in a long time that have come up: The extremely cold weather means that my poor husband (a plumber) was out a lot working on frozen pipes and broken heating systems, which meant I spent more time alone than I've had to in a long time. The kids constantly being kept home from school due to snow meant I stayed home a lot and didn't get things done at the store that needed to be done. But now that the weather is finally turning a bit warmer and the threat of snow is slowly receding I'm looking forward to finally finishing some of my projects.
It's interesting to note that through the years my sewing seems to change with the seasons... In the colder months I tend to focus my energy and my attention to more quilting related projects and in the Spring and Summer I tend to focus more on clothing and home decorating. I can only assume that I really don't want to think about snuggling under a quilt when it's hot and muggy outside and I just ca't imagine working on a summer dress when it's below zero out and I'm praying I have enough oil to get me through until my next delivery. But there is one thing that stays pretty constant no matter what the season is: My need to create and try new things in sewing no matter what the project is. And the last couple of weeks it's been all about quilting! And I don't mean piecing, I mean quilting. I'm talking about now that I've got the top priced and the backing and batting and top all layered together and now it's time to put those stitches in that hold all those laters together. And there's something about quilting that has always scared me. I kind of always think to myself how awesome it would be if I quilted (insert crazy intricate design here) into this quilt. But there's no way that I can get that done. It'll look awful when I'm finished. And my favorite thought: "When I quilt this, how I am I gonna not ruin it?". I noticed that so many of my thoughts when it came to quilting focused on the negative, like what I couldn't do, or how not accomplished I am when it comes to quilting and when you're thinking that way, it's really easy to feel like you're going to ruin all that hard work of piecing the top if you try to quilt it yourself. But I will never learn if I don't try...
So this winter has been all about quilting. I'm now working on quilting my second quilt this week and I have to tell you I've broadened my horizons a bit and am actually looking forward to finishing this one and getting ready to do the next. And over these last couple of quilts I have learned quite a few things that I would like to share with you:
Quilting takes practice. We all know it. Whether it's free motion quilting or quilting in the ditch, you just have to take a deep breath and get in there and do it. If you don't put the time in, you'll never learn it. This last week I cut of a piece of a pre printed panel. It's just a piece of fabric with some quilt blocks printed on it and I just started quilting it. I didn't invest hours piecing the top so I felt a bit freer to just go ahead and try some quilting techniques on it. It was really quite pleasant because I wasn't so emotionally invested in the piece. I didn't love the fabrics, I didn't love the design and if I ruined it, so what? But it gave me the opportunity to try tracing around things in my quilting and echo quilting and all sorts of stippling and just getting used to the weight of the quilt pulling and how to work in sections. I also used this piece as a way to get 'warmed up' before I tried quilting on my actual piece. Which was so handy, and so helpful to kind of get my groove on before I actually went to work on a piece that I cared about.
Quilting takes patience. I had to be patient mostly with myself. Which I think was the hardest part. When I would start to move the fabric too fast and my thread would break I was starting to get frustrated and I even had to step away from the machine a few times (ya know, before the machine and the quilt got thrown through the window at the shop.). I had to play a bit with my threads and needles but once I found the right combo, it was smooth sailing from there.
Quilting is awesome! It has been so amazing to get some of those projects finished. It has been so relieving to get them quilted, bound and on display and has really set me to clear my plate and move forward with newer projects. I can now start to guilt free look at other fabrics and patterns. I no longer have that little voice in the back of my head telling me that I shouldn't do something because I have 4 quilt tops that need to be layered and quilted. It has really set me free to be creative without all the guilt!
Now for some tips: When it comes to tension when you're free motion quilting, you can feel like you're going crazy. Sometimes it's just right and other times it's pulling weird in the back so you speed up and slow down and raise your tension and lower it but nothing seems to help... I had one quilt that I was doing just fine on one day and the next my stitching was looking terrible. The only thing different was that I had changed my needle. I don't know what was in there but I thought to myself: Hey, I didn't change my needle before I started, I think I should do that now. And of course everything went down hill from there... But what I did was actually raise my tension all the way up until it was too tight (my bobbin thread was showing on the top of the quilt), and then dropped it down just a little bit. Voila!! My tension was all better!! The difference from one needle to the next was amazing. When I first started my tension was at about 3, after I changed my needle I needed it all the way up to 6! I personally have stopped caring what the number is, I just worry that the tension looks correct and to heck with what all those books tell me! Frixion pens are great!! They're these cool gel ink pens that you can use to just write with but they're erasable by just rubbing them. It's the heat cause by the friction of rubbing the ink that causes the ink to disappear. How does this relate to quilting? On one of my quilts I quilted each block differently. In order to get this straight lines and weird designs, I drew them all onto the quilt with the Frixion pen and then erased them with the heat from the iron. They work wonderfully!! The ink came off all my fabrics (including white) and they come in a variety of colors. If you haven't seen them, we now stock them so come in and check 'em out!! Safety pins aren't just for basting- I used a LOT of safety pins on one of my quilt tops when I was basting it and I knew all I wanted to do was a fairly large stipple all over the top. The design of the top was so crazy and busy there was no need to do anything else extravagant (you wouldn't see it any way), so I used to safety pins to keep my stippling consistently large and even. How? I just placed them fairly evenly and quilted in sections around the safety pins. I couldn't get too close to the safety pin so my stippling had to almost 'spread out' and they helped me mentally plot out where I was going to quilt next and break the quilt up into smaller sections to focus on. Once I was done in an area I would take all the pins out of that area so I always knew what areas were still left to be quilted- Only the spots with safety pins still in had to be done. And most importably: You have to look at where you're going and not where you are, both figuratively and literally. It was really hard to keep things consistent and know where I was going when I was looking right at the needle and the lines right around it. Everything was jagged looking and un even because I was being too jerky and reacting too late. When I started focusing more on where I was heading with my quilting I found my lines to be maybe a little less accurate but there were much smoother and cleaner looking. And I feel like the same can be said in the grander scheme of things. As I stop focusing on how crappy my quilting is now and start focusing on where I want to be, the lines seem to be getting smoother and more clear...