Thursday, March 4, 2010
Go With the Flow
In the photo, left, some of the feathers are many inches long, and these, for a home machine quilter, are by far the most difficult to do well. Keeping a smooth line while moving the quilt instead of the machine or a needle is tres difficult.
If you have picked designs that seemed "easy" because they were simple large loops or big floral motifs but found that quilting them was a huge challenge, you will have already experienced the issues involved with larger designs, done with a home sewing machine.
Smaller, repetitive shapes are far easier to do. Circles, rocks and pebbles, small clamshells, 1" or smaller marked feathers, Diane-shiko, stippling---all are easier to do than an 8" 4-petal flower! Yet that flower design looks easy to a beginner, and can result in total frustration.
If you begin with designs that are small and curvy, chances of success are greater. As you get familiar with moving the quilt instead of the needle to draw and design as you quilt, or to follow a marked line, you definitely can add designs that include longer lines.
The most difficult part of an ornate feather design is the central line, or "spine" and many times even as an experienced quilter I choose to do these after quilting for awhile on other easier designs for a good warmup. Then when things are clicking along well I do long demanding lines, especially long parallel lines.
Straight lines as in a marked grid are more difficult than long curved lines.
Diane-shiko (the background motif around the feathers, above, was something I came up with for students who could not follow this design with a marked stencil, or could not easily do a 1/2" marked cross-hatch grid. The small curves are easier by far for most quilters than marking all those curves and staying on the lines, seeing the lines as you quilt, or doing a straight grid.
Doing these long flowing lines is natural if you are moving the machine or the needle, as in longarm quilting or hand quilting. Both of these are an extension of your long years of writing, and quilting with these tools is akin to using a pen and paper.
Home machine quilting throws up huge obstacles to get those long, flowing "ice skating" kinds of designs. We have only a small zone around the needle where we move the quilt smoothly, also a challenge, it's difficult to see around and behind the needle, and we have to move our hands, readjust the bulk and weight of the quilt, and proceed with that smooth design. It's not easy.
Also, if you are quilting freehand feathers, leaves, fronds, etc., the more flowing and smooth they are the better they look. They are more visually pleasing if they naturally emerge from a stem, vine, and so on, rather than look clunky and abrupt as you stop quilting, readjust the quilt and your hands, take a deep breath, look around and behind the needle to see where you are going, and then try ever so carefully to begin quilting and not get a little zig or zag or uneven stitches to mar the "flow." Trying to keep the smoothness is really difficult, and takes practice.
Many times I suggest merging, rather than abrupt turns, as in the feathers above. Try and have one line slide out from another or merge back into a shape smoothly. Learn where it is best to stop the machine so you can readjust your hands and quilt.
Try putting the needle in the "up" position or start very slowly as you resume quilting, rather than starting up quickly with the needle in the "down" position when you stopped to move your hands. This will make less of a noticeable start/stop spot.
Adding long flowing designs takes your quilting to the next level. The smoothness of long curves and soft shapes really defines puff, gives great visual dimension, and looks organic and natural.
Be careful when quilting long lines or big feathers, leaves and flowers, especially central lines as that is when your hands tend to go much too fast for the speed of the machine you are used to using on smaller shapes. Definitely you can let your hands move faster, in fact shapes and long lines tend to be smoother if you do, but you must run the machine faster to keep the stitches consistent. If you have stitches in these long designs that are much bigger, speed up your machine. You can run it slower when doing smaller designs.
I use different speeds all the time to adjust to the speed of my hands, rather than doing it all at one speed. I quilted that way from the very beginning.
Contrast shapes like this with smaller ones, and with geometric ones like straight lines, or chevron quilting.
Quilting on a home machine is a big challenge, but sitting at your own machine, hunkered down around your quilt, listening to music, hearing the sweet sound of the motor purring along as you work, is so worth it. Getting better takes work, and thought, and planning. Each skill adds to one you already know.
Keep quilting! Your work gets better every day.