Monday, November 28, 2011

Starting a new quilt

We have had an amazing past few days here in Manhattan!  It's almost December, and we should be getting whacked with snow right about now...but I'm not complaining!  Spent the morning preparing for and doing an audition for an opera for next season.  Auditions are always a bit nerve-wracking, but my daughter was sick this morning, and I would have MUCH preferred staying home and playing with her than traipsing to Midtown to bear my vocal soul for 8 minutes, but momma's gotta eat, right?
Anyhow, I am loving doing my disappearing 9 patch Christmas quilt!  After my freestyle log cabin, where I was constantly going back and forth between cutting mat, sewing machine, and ironing board, this project is flying by!  Even better, the bulk of my 5x5 squares are drawn from Summerfield Quilt's Christmas charm swap, so the cutting's done!

 This is my first fabric swap, and I really love sitting down and doing some cutting, then a few weeks later getting a pile of surprise fabrics all ready to go!  True, I don't love every square, but this is going to be a very ecclectic piece, so I did my best at matching up each 8 patch group with the gold stripe middle square.  My basic pattern is darker squares in the 4 corners and lighter squares in between.  Unfortunately, there are lots of in-betweeners in the bunch, so some squares adhere better to the plan (9 patch below) than others (9 patch above).

I am, for the first time, ironing my seams open- looks neater and feels less bulky.  Maybe I should say that my seams are getting ironed open.  My wife is doing some ironing for me, so this project is progressing at warp speed for me, which is so exciting!  She did the hand-sewn bindings on my first few projects, but since discovering machine binding, I might do that to save time and meet my deadlines.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Finally finished Mother in Law quilt!

Here are my first two "finishes" of my new quilting life- a little teapot coaster, which was gifted to some friends with whom we spent Thanksgiving... twin sized mother-in-law quilt, which I photographed in our neighborhood park, ripe with gorgeous fall foliage- a perfect backdrop for the colors (and leaf patterns) of this quilt!   Though the color palettes are the same, I used completely different fabrics for these two projects.  The teapot coaster is made up of a single block of swapped strips from my friend Elise in Anchorage, and the quilt from my small (but quickly-growing) stash.  

This quilt was a huge learning experience for me.  At first I was going to talk about how I was equal parts elated and embarrassed upon surveying my finished product, but after a day to think about what to report on this experience, I guess I can only say that I am going to not make a lot of mistakes I made this time around!

The free-motion quilting was, by far, the greatest challenge of this project, and if I were to do it over again, I probably wouldn't have fmq'ed it.  I do prefer the look, but the brown thread is very easy to see on the light parts of the top, and with the number of thread breaks and skipped stitched I had, there were a few sections that were less-than-professional looking!  I really wanted it stippled, and just didn't have the time to practice, practice, practice before I did it.  I did watch many youtube tutorials, then finally just jumped in!  In the final analysis, I definitely notice all the imperfections, but as everyone says, only the quilters will notice those things. My mother-in-law didn't care- she loves it :)

With my new (used) Singer 301a, I had some misadventures which also slowed me down.  I was getting a lot of skipped stitches as I fmq'ed, and someone suggested I remove and clean the thread tension assembly.  That was maybe a good idea, but my execution of it was decidedly lackluster!  Thinking it was attached with a screw, I stuck a screwdriver in it and began "loosening" it.  I actually just bent a spring in the assembly and had to get a replacement, which took a few days.  Btw, the thread tension assembly wasn't in need of cleaning (eye roll).  In addition, the free motion pattern I was using (curley cues) seemed to take a ton of thread (like, a bobbin per 14" block!).  I realize now I was using so much because all of my loops were very small.  My loops were small because I was having trouble managing all the extra quilt fabric.  I will likely straight-line quilt my next project or two, although since they are lapquilts, fmq'ing might be easier this time around...I will have to make a game-time decision on that one, I guess. 

For backing, I used a few scraps from the front as well as brown and orange plaid fabrics, which were clearance fabric seconds from Connecting Threads.  For under $2 a yard with no imperfections, it was perfect for this project!  My binding was a red-orange pattern on yellow, and frames the quilt nicely (I think).  As I was under a time crunch, I decided to give machine binding a try.  It was MUCH faster, and produced a neat-looking finish, which did the trick just fine.  I would do it again, and might have to, since I now have to get two lap quilts done before Christmas (I don't have tons of free time to quilt)!

These pictures of my MIL quilt were taken in Isham Park, Inwood, NYC.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again!

My machine had been skipping stitches, making for a couple of really not attractive quilted blocks and an extremely bummed-out quilter.  After uttering a couple of words I won't repeat, I put down my work and sat down at the old computer to plumb the depths of your experience and knowledge to solve my mechanical issue.

I did two things which seemed to do the trick:

1) Changed back to my old needle.  For some weird, unexplainable reason, a second Schmetz quilting needle from the same box just wasn't behaving itself, so I went back to the first needle I had been using for the last week or so.  Fortunately I didn't throw it away!

2) Slowed down the hands.  My wife was being a bit of a "back seat quilter", and told me I needed to make bigger loops.  When I started making bigger loops, I think I may have sped up the delivery of the quilt, and this might have contributed to skipped stitches as well.  Back to smaller loops and more controlled, slower stitching.

All of those stops, starts, and thread breaks were not pretty, and contributed to some significant tension on my part, which makes my fun hobby a literal pain in the neck.  Last night I was back to happily quilting away, and finished another 5 blocks.  Only 10 blocks left, and at this rate, I should be quilted and bound by Friday!  Yay!  Already chomping at the bit to continue another WIP for my sister.

Many thanks to my readers (and Rosanne in particular) for helping me get out of my FMQ Blues!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

I've got those FMQ blues...

It seems my machine is now "skipping stitches".  I'm not sure how to describe it.  The top thread doesn't break, but the needle makes holes in the fabric as I sew, and the top thread doesn't hook up with the bottom.  I'll be going along fine, then look back at my work to see that there are holes in the fabric, but no thread.  Then it goes back to sewing properly.  Perhaps a picture could clarify:

As you can probably see, to the left of my finger is a lopsided loop which I had sewn "loopy" and the straight part of the loop is one long stitch.  You can also see the loop directly below  my finger in the photo that the stitch length is really long (same goes for the loop below that one, also in the brown fabric strip).  Finally, in the lower right corner, on the orange fabric, you can see where a quilted loop stops and starts- this is because I just ripped out the thread with my seam ripper.  This isn't a matter of moving the quilt too fast, I have a new needle in, I only broke my thread once, and it only started happening today, after stitching my first 6 blocks a few days ago with no problems.  I would LOVE any feedback or suggestions if any of my readers can figure out what might be wrong.  Also, it's 100% cotton thread from Connecting Threads, if that's info that would be helpful.

Please help- I am in a very sour mood because this issue has surfaced as I am quilting the lightest block on my quilt with brown thread...booo!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Stressing about my Quilt

I decided to "stitch-in-the-ditch" quilt my Mother-in-law quilt around each block, but the squares are big (14 inches), so I thought I should do another stitch in the block.  As the blocks are a bit wonky (or at least assymetrical), I didn't think simply putting an "X" thru the middle of each would look so good, so I got adventurous and decided to just jump in with some freemotion design inside the block.

Now, before I reveal my work, I have to admit it was probably not a great idea to have my first freemotion adventure on a big quilt like this one.  Some people start out with some placemats or oven mitts, or even a lapquilt- why did I jump into the deep end?  Because it just seemed right.

My strategy was to get a little practice on a few scraps, then, since I am using brown thread to quilt, start with the darker blocks first- that way, the crappiest FMQ might be less noticable :)

What I have found most difficult with my machine (Singer 301a with original table) is managing/supporting the bulk of the quilt as I work.  The fold-out table top helps, but it seems I need three hands to keep the extra fabric supported while at the same time trying to keep a consistent "flow", allowing me to have a somewhat regular stitch length and round loops in my pattern.  I have seen some people use silicone spray on their tables to keep the fabric sliding smoothly on the table, but my suspicion is that it's not the equiptment- it's me.  Hopefully after a few more blocks I will get into a rhythm!

Oh, and my mother-in-law arrives tomorrow, so I guess it's time to concoct a lie to cover up the surprise- like this quilt is for my mom.  Yeah, that's the ticket!