Friday, August 28, 2009

Listen to the Fabric

Sometimes we sit and stare, ponder, and dither, and finally the best option for difficult fabrics is to simply listen to them. Instead of countering the design they have, it’s not a bad idea to work with these designs by using them as the basis of a quilting motif.

The photo, above, shows a soft double zig-zag line of quilting on the bright yellow fabric in a challenge quilt I did last spring. Each border had the print positioned a bit differently as I wasn’t planning on using it as my quilting guide.

So each border was quilted with this design but was just a bit different. It all merged wonderfully and looked just fine.

It is fairly easy to use the fabric print as your guide, parts of it as positioning points in creating a freehand quilting design. I quilted freehand, stayed within the area I used in the print, and worked along steadily, looked ahead of the needle to the lines of the fabric itself, and yes, I had to take breaks to rest my eyes every now and then as it gets a bit dizzying doing this kind of quilting. But it went quickly and was fun to do.

This example, above, is another of the fabrics in this quilt and even though I tried some marked Diane-shiko on it as a small sample, I went with this freehand design that was 1) simple, 2) fast, and 3) effective.
It showcased the design of this gaphic fabric, it created a new dimension for the fabric, and added a new layer of design. It did not interfere, get lost, or take over. It was quite fun and easy to do. I finished all 4 borders in an hour or so.

And I didn’t have to mark it or try to see marks as I quilted or remove marks later.
The marked Diane-shiko I thought would look so wonderful was difficult to mark, impossible to see, and the final quilted sample looked pretty boring. I mean, really boring. You couldn’t see the quilting, and the fabric design was obscured. It was an exercise in the wrong design for the wrong fabric with the wrong result.
Don’t worry about switching your ideas while working on a quilt. Always try a sample of the quilting you plan on the fabric itself. Not only do you warm up and get into that design before you do it on the actual quilt, but you can see right away if it works into all the necessary requirements for being “the right design” for this area, this fabric, this quilt.
I have become far more flexible after years of quilting and have learned to listen to the quilt, to the fabric. It’s good to try something different than the same old, same old.

Keep quilting; your work indeed will get better every day!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Diane-shiko Tips

Many of you have been quilting this design, shown above in my quilt Shadows of Umbria, as a way to obtain a traditional Sashiko look with the ease of machine quilting simple arcs around a marked grid. I get questions about it in my classes and when I teach the technique, so here are a few tips for you. It is explained, step by step, in my book Quilt Savvy: Gaudynski’s Machine Quilting Guidebook, with many detailed photos.

Marking: Clear, crisp, easy-to-see marked ½” grids are the best. I use a ½” marked grid, on point, and use the June Tailor Grid Marker stencil. It makes it so easy. If you can’t see a nice “intersection” of two lines crossing, you are only guessing at a particular point, and the final result will be irregular. Also, you are stressed while doing the quilting because you just can’t quite see where you should be stitching.

I avoid chalk markers, the Pounce type ones, fuzzy tipped markers from too much use, lines you cannot possibly see except on another planet with a different light spectrum. Get a new marker, press lightly on it, let the ink in it wick out to the fabric rather than pushing/pressing so hard the line is fat and blurred and bleeding. Be delicate and precise.

For dark fabrics I like the Clover White Marking pen. It dries and stays crisp and bright, and is ironed out at the end.

Marking is crucial for this design. All four lines of the design “cross” at the point where the two grid lines cross, and precision helps make the design look its best.

Speed: Another tip is to quilt this design at one even speed, not too fast. If you move your hands too fast, the stitches will be so large the design will not look clean and even, but filled with irregular big “basting” stitches. Smooth slow steady hands create lovely even stitches.

Run the machine at a nice even medium speed so it doesn’t sound like a runaway train. Too fast and there go your hands, whizzing away and missing the intersections. Too slow and the stitches get large and uneven, and there goes the look of the design.

Learn the sound of the machine for the correct speed. It becomes comforting and allows you to relax and let your shoulders drop, and arms rest comfortably. You really only need to lift and move your hands for this design, not your arms at all.

Moving the quilt smoothly: Make sure the quilt moves smoothly on the machine bed. Use a Supreme Slider ( or starch the backing of your quilt. Make sure any Plexiglas has been cleaned and polished so it is smooth and slippery.

I never add anything to my surface, just keep it clean, and I don’t use any sprays near my machine that would settle on the surface and make it sticky. For me, the Slider really helps, but even without it, starching the backing, and my stainless steel bed of my Bernina make a huge difference in being able to move the quilt smoothly.
Look ahead of the needle. Visualize the half-way point on the arc and aim for the next point where two lines cross. Do not watch the needle itself.

Where to begin: I usually place one line of the arcs on both sides of a line forming little ‘footballs’ right in the center of an area as an anchor to hold it in place and then work from that.

Many times I do this from a design such as a quilted feather out to an edge and back perhaps twice, forming a "V," then cut my thread, place the needle at the outside edge or ditch and then work back to the design and “travel” on the edge, or the ditch, rather than on the outer edge of the design.
Visuals: It’s nice to do the Diane-shiko in a slightly different color thread than used for the design or different from the fabric color. But if you choose to try this idea, be sure and echo the design with the background thread color first, then proceed to do the Diane-shiko. This line of echo quilting in the thread color of the background quilting will give you a pathway for travel to the next line and will be undetectable.

Sometimes you have to slow down just a tad to do this travel quilting for a few stitches, and this is when you DO look at the needle and stitches. Being precise at traveling or stitching over a previously quilted line is crucial. If you can do this well, it will be undetectable and look fabulous.
I always place my Diane-shiko on the diagonal, or “on point.” I find there is less distortion of grainlines of the fabric, no pleating will develop, and the look is more elegant. Also, you won’t run into the "issue" of the design lines not being quite parallel to seamlines, a problem that can happen when you mark parallel to seams or with the grainline. It looks bad and can cause excess fabric pushing into pleats. In a very small area it works, but be wary of doing it on a large expanse of background.
Be sure and remove your marking thoroughly when finished. Check it under an Ott light or fluorescent light to be sure it is totally gone.

If you make the arcs correctly the finished design will look like interlocking circles. If the arcs are too skinny and flat it will still look great, but the overall circles will be flattened. Whatever you do, keep it consistent overall and don’t try and change to fatter arcs, flatter arcs, back and forth. Don’t over-correct if you find that the arc you just quilted is too thin or fat. Always try for the correct arc, and the few odd ones will simply blend in. Circles over circles will confuse the eye and no one will notice.

Words of Wisdom: If there is a bad arc, “let it go.” Don’t spend unnecessary time picking out quilting stitches. In time all the arcs will be great. If you stop all the time and un-quilt, you will always be making mistakes because a rhythm and muscle memory for the design won’t have a chance to develop.

Take breaks! Use a magnifier to see the marked grid! My Bernina has one available for purchase, a set of 3 wonderful lenses that do not make me carsick when I use them.

Use a slightly different colored thread so you can see the design, or blend it in with a matching color.

Use this design all by itself to cover and quilt a border, a block interior, a circle in appliqué, the center of flowers, on garments. Divide up a section into soft curves and do this design in one of them, other motifs in the remaining sections.
Yes, you can do this on a smaller grid such as 3/8" or 1/4" for tiny areas, or larger, perhaps a 1" grid. The larger the arc is, the more difficult, in a home sewing machine, to keep it smooth and all arcs similar.

If you do enough of this, it will get better and better. The biggest danger is to try and go way too fast. This design needs your concentration and focus but will garner results in the end. Everyone will love it.

Keep quilting, your work gets better every day.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

New Hats

New hats....sometimes it's pure fun and self-indulgence to shop for a frivolous item like a hat. A lovely outdoor summer wedding is coming up this weekend, so I decided to give in and buy a big straw hat. Whether I actually wear it or not is up for last-minute decisions, but the small expense of it compared to the fun I had picking it out is so worth it. While I was trying them all on and enjoying every minute of it, I discovered this sumptious felt cloche style hat with the cabbage rose that had to come home with me as well.

I may never wear it, but have plans of covering bad hair if need be, accenting my jeans and turtleneck fall outfits with this hat just to make a statement and enjoy the fact that I can wear a hat if I want to. I never thought being older would be so liberating!

Below, Cynthia, Susie and Marty are working hard in the class held at the National Quilt Museum. The entire class at work shows you the classroom, size, and how relaxed everyone was while working quietly, or gathering together around me and my machine for some instruction for all. Hope to see some of you there next year.

Until then, keep quilting! Your work gets better every day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Paducah Postcard

The fabric postcard, above, arrived in my stack of mail this weekend! I always find it totally amazing that a little "quilt" can go through the mail system, get a postmark, arrive at my home all in one piece. Love these, and hope to try making one myself one of these days.

This one is from Ruth Ohol, who was in my "The Adventure Continues" class in Paducah a week ago, at the National Quilt Museum. I admit I probably whined a bit about the seemingly endless drive to get there from Wisconsin. What used to be 7 hours was 10.

Illinois was one long highway headed south with road construction most of the way. My new Buick wanted to go fast and be nimble and fabulous out on the road, but no, we had to obey the rules and drive a modest 45 mph most of the way. I had a permanent bend in my body when I finally pried myself out of the car when I arrived in Paducah.

Ruth guessed at the mileage but it is an exact 500 miles for me from house to museum. A long drive, but one I usually enjoy, floating along at 80 and listening to music. Going home wasn't bad, some construction delays, but much faster. And going to Paducah is worth it, a terrific town, any time of the year.

By the way, if you haven't been to Sandra Leichner's blog to read about her "take" on the puff situation, machine quilting and applique, it is worth your time. Her work is beautiful, and she enhances her meticulous handwork with beautiful machine quilting to get a miracle marriage between hand and machine.

Oh, the road in the postcard is very accurate - the real highway is a straight line, due south. In southern IL it gets so beautiful, hills and forests and lovely vignettes of rural farms, horses, rolling hills.

Hope all of you have some highway adventures in August and enjoy the last of summer. The smell of autumn was in the air today, insects humming, ground fog in the hollows. Soon it will be back to school, and for me I hope some back to quilting.

Keep quilting!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Grip

How to hold the quilt in the machine for the best control and ease of quilting is an individual thing. We all find our “comfort zones” that will give us good grip and control, and still have ease of moving the quilt, plus no strain on our bodies.
Michelle, above, had a small blue piece in class last week and it was fairly easy for her to control the quilt with her hands. Alexandra's green quilt sampler was larger and she had more trouble moving it in class on a table-top set-up. Everyone persevered and had even stitches and control at the same time.
However, many quilters have a problem with this. I try to discourage students from “the death grip” on their quilts, even on small pieces. Too much pressure on it will only defeat everything you’ve done to make it move easily – pushing down on the quilt with your elbows in the air and shoulders hunched will give you pain and create uneven, jerky stitches.

Instead try relaxing your shoulders like Barbara, above, keeping your elbows down, and yes you many times do have to concentrate on that as many are completely unaware of their bird-like body positions while they quilt. It’s best of course to be able to rest your forearms much of the time on the surround or cabinet, on the quilt itself, and move the quilt with your hands, lightly touching the quilt and moving it easily.

Some helpful aids are a Supreme Slider to adhere to the bed of your machine,, that makes it so easy to move the quilt. You really only need this slippery stuff right around the needle zone as the rest of the quilt is bunched up and not moving. The area you move with your hands and fine finger control is only around the needle. This little helpful addition to your machine makes an incredible difference.
Many quilters like to wear gloves so their “grip” is better. I never have worn them but instead depend on the quilt to move smoothly on a smooth surface, divide the quilt into smaller areas to quilt where I can rest my arms and move it with my hands, using a very light touch, not palms pressed down hard. However, if you find you need them and can't move the quilt without them? Go right ahead; it just lessens that tactile feedback to your brain from the quilt.
There are other devices available to help control and move the quilt. I've tried them all, and they are more of a hindrance to me than a help, and a visual distraction too. I do think there are possibilities if you have physical problems and have a very hard time holding and moving the quilt. Then look for an aid, a hoop, gloves, whatever it takes to let you machine quilt.
If I see a quilter come to class and don the gloves, they may have a machine that doesn’t have enough room under the foot for smooth movement of the quilt and perhaps needs adjusting, or they are used to quilting big simple designs where a lot of the quilt has to be moved smoothly in big motions.

Another way to improve the “slide” of the quilt is to starch the backing before layering. This really helps that fabric move more smoothly and I’ve been doing this for years. It also helps stabilize the fabric so pleats don’t form on the back. I’ve never had this happen and I think starch and good pinning has been the answer for me. I know some like to hand baste with certain threads or even water soluble thread but I so do not like working with a hand sewing needle that I do stay with my #1 bent safety pins for basting.

Learning not to press down on the quilt so hard, learning to lift and control the quilt and help it move smoothly will do SO much for your control of the consistency of the stitches that you will be amazed. Everyone has their own particular style, so do what feels right for you but if you still find you can’t seem to hold and move the quilt smoothly, try something else.

I many times will scrunch up and area of the quilt by the needle to give me something more substantial to hold, rather than pressing down with my hands. If you do grab the quilt and lift it as you move it you might lose some of the “hands are the hoop” technique that smooths out the quilt in that needle zone. You might be able to move it easily but pleats might develop with excess fabric and no place to go.
It's wise to find the right combination of controlling the quilt with ease and smoothness of movement. Don’t sacrifice one for the other.

Relax, let your shoulders drop, breathe. Take breaks. Don't be afraid to stop the machine, re-position your hands, start again. I'll write about smooth stops and starts another day.

Keep quilting, your work gets better every day.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Class Experience

A beautiful copper ceiling in downtown Paducah, KY, is indeed an inspiration for quilting designs. Don't forget to look up every now and then! Surprises await us at every opportunity. Sometimes it's simply the way a line intersects with another, or the color of a leaf next to a blossom, but ideas are everywhere.

Our classes in Paducah at the National Quilt Museum have concluded but it might be fun for you to read about one student's experience, especially how she learned to use her provided machine, a different brand than what she herself uses. Mercy sent me her class scribe notes, and she has her own blog, so follow this link to read her delightful report on "The Adventure Continues":

Keep quilting!


Saturday, August 8, 2009


Sometimes it is more work to “unpack” from a trip than it is to pack. For some mysterious reason I always bring home more, even though I distribute the handouts, eat the food taken with me, sell the thread. My quilts “fluff” after being out and about in the classroom and take up more room, I buy a few things here and there, and clothes that have been worn and just tossed in the suitcase definitely take up more room.
Plus, the anticipation of the trip makes packing so much more fun than unpacking and getting back to the normal routine of everyday life at home. It is raining hard here in Wisconsin and we really need it for the parched lawns, gardens, farms. Good weather for "unpacking."

The laundry is in the washer, stencils back in the drawer, quilts out flat on my cutting table to relax and de-crease after being smooshed in the suitcase in hot, humid weather. I tacked the notes I made to myself on the wall, and now just have a bit of bookkeeping to do, then relax, quilt until it is time to get ready for the next trip.

I had a wonderful time with 39 students in two sessions at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY last week, and I too learned new things. Ideas, techniques, all were shared, and of course the quilts in the museum continually inspire and delight. It was a pleasure to visit two of my quilts on display and recall all that went into them and see them with a fresh perspective of time and distance.

The photo, below, shows some of my quilting on a small muslin sample. The circles, or “froth,” the bubbles on top of a hot latte, an heirloom variation of rocks or pebbles, are about 1/8” across.
When quilting them you need to slow down a bit, be sure the stitches don’t get too large or you’ll get rolling hexagons, adjust the top tension maybe a bit lower so the thread doesn’t pull as you do tiny designs. I used yellow thread on muslin and the effect is a subtle colorwash of color that blends and enriches.

Most of us in both classes found that quilting small circles like this is better done in small amounts at a sitting, short sessions at the machine. Be sure and take frequent breaks, look up, blink, rest your eyes. I use a magnifier on my Bernina whenever doing this sort of quilting design and it helps tremendously.

I do still take plenty of breaks though, and no one could pay me enough to quilt an entire background of tiny circles. I use them here and there, like a dash of seasoning in my quilt.

We discovered that #100 silk thread has this colorwash effect. Quilted heavily over a fabric color in a non-matching but blending shade it adds to the richness of the quilt without screaming “Thread!” or looking too contrasty. Thread is another tool we machine quilters can use to define our designs, control color, and let negative space show better.

Stitch length, color of thread, and machine tension are the three defining things that make or break the quilting.

Play around with some quilting and try a slightly “off” color of thread instead of matching it to the fabric, or contrasting it. Chartreuse silk thread on gold fabric, oh my, wonderful. How did I not know this twenty years ago?

Keep quilting, your work indeed will get better!


Saturday, August 1, 2009

School's Out

Class #1 is over at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY. Here are a few of my terrific students after they survived intensive quilting and instruction at the museum. And note that they are still standing!

We had a tour of a few quilts in the galleries today, and they had free access to the exhibits throughout the time they were here, and oh what beauties are on display! We saw Mariya Waters' Best of Show quilt from this year's AQS show, and Philippa Naylor's 2009 Bernina Award winner, both marvelous designs and amazing machine quilting.

The miniature collection is growing and is as awe-inspiring as ever to see these works of art, done in such a small scale, so perfect, so beautiful. Pieced, appliqued, whole cloth; it's all there. I was able to tell them inside information about my miniature quilt "A Visit to Provence" and my full size quilt, "Shadows of Umbria," both on display.

If you have never been to the museum, check out their website at and get information, because it is well worth the trip.

These quilters were in the very back of the room and laughter kept erupting as running jokes found new outlets for them. The quilting however was beautiful. Lovely, flowing designs, and attention to detail everywhere.
Congratulations class, you did so well, and it was a pleasure to meet and work with all of you.
Keep quilting, your work gets better every day.