I have been sifting and sorting through my quilts and everything else in the house for two months. I have unearthed many interesting things, with Oliver's help of course.
I started thinking about the use of background quilting. When I first started machine quilting and had vast areas of space around piecing and designs I knew I had to quilt "something."
I was using flat cotton batts, so there was minimal excess "pouf" in the quilt, so most of the time I left larger areas in piecing, some narrow borders, etc., unquilted. Above, the large points of the stars are not quilted, the center square has a cross hatch grid, but the tiny pieces too are unquilted.
Then came the background around the stars. I looked at old handquilted quilts to see what quilters of the past had done, as they worked with cotton batting as well, and it needed fairly close quilting to stabilize it. One of the most common solutions was parallel lines about 1/4" apart. I felt it gave my quilt a true antique, hand quilted look, so decided I'd try it! I had no experience with this technique, and no fear. I was a beginner.
Here is the quilt when I recently unfolded it from storage and saw my early work, larger stitches (but even stitches), invisible thread, all done free motion. The lines, grids, outline quilting, everything was done free motion.
I didn't like using a walking foot and be unable to quilt in any direction. Contant turning of the quilt drove me to distraction, so I knew early on that free motion was the answer, and the only way to quilt a large quilt that could not be turned easily once under the needle was to hunker down and do it free motion.
I based this quilt on several old feathered star quilts but used Trudie Hughes' rotary cutting techniques to cut and piece the blocks. In the black and white photos I had of old block quilts many of them had these parallel lines as background. They happen to run across the bias grain of the fabric, as the blocks are on point.
Little did I know then that it was the best way to hand quilt a straight line, and it is by far the easiest and best way to machine quilt a straight line. Quilting a line on the bias grain prevents distortion. No excess fabric will be pushed and pulled as you quilt the lines as can happen oh so often if you quilt on grainlines, especially cross grain.
I didn't know the key to echo quilting at that time, which is to visualize the space between the lines of quilting and keep that even. Instead I used the edge of my #9 Bernina foot as a guide and found it difficult but I persevered. It was a bit like looking at your car's tires and the side of the road to stay on the road, rather than looking ahead, down the road.
I learned to tilt the quilt a bit so I could see behind the foot as I quilted away from myself. The back of the foot on my 1030 really was in the way. On my newer Berninas (200 and 730) the back of the foot is offset to the "2 o'clock" position so I can see perfectly behind the foot/needle, and there is no big thumb screw or other obstruction in the way either.
Some of my quilted lines on this quilt are a little "off" and some spacing is wider or narrower than others throughout the quilt. It certainly does not look like digitized quilting!
I keyed off a straight line drawn from corner to corner in the setting square blocks, and extra lines were included here and there to act as "horizon" lines, to help me stay level and even.
After I quilted awhile I would get into the flow of it and by the end of the quilt my lines and spacing were very good indeed. There were some areas that did develop excess fabric and I had to ease that in and work slowly so I didn't stitch in pleats, but overall I was pleased with this look. At the time I did not stipple, and could not envision it in large areas like this.
I was relieved when it was done, and I loved this quilt, and it went on the bed.
It was named "Feathered Star," did well in Wisconsin quilt shows and someone encouraged me to enter it in the AQS Paducah show. It was accepted, which almost caused heart failure when I received the letter and my name badge for the show. Of course my sister Mary and I went in '93, and seeing my humble quilt hanging there with hand quilted masterpieces was the reward for the hours I had spent learning to free motion quilt.
It didn't win a prize, but it always had a crowd around it and people at that time were truly unbelieving that it was machine quilted. It had no obvious machine quilting motifs or techniques. I used everything a hand quilter would have used 100 years ago, and it was rich and warm with its freckled cream background, and those amazing lines I quilted.
Now we are using zillions of background motifs to cover territory and create visual interest in our machine quilted quilts. I still prefer the more unassuming backgrounds, things that don't take over but support the color and main designs. I like thread that gives warmth but isn't the focal point. I don't like backgrounds that jump out at you. I want you to look at the design, not the thread.
We all have our personal preferences and you should definitely quilt your quilt the way you want it to look. I have since embraced very fine weight colored threads, subtle color gradations, even a bit of shine or sparkle here and there.
And sometimes I think back to my first quilts done by machine with nothing but straight lines done with a walking foot, or later designs on scrappy prints and no background quilting at all, and they are still good quilts.
Sorting through my quilts made me start thinking of machine quilting and how it has changed over the past years and how I approach my own work in light of all the change. I have made many changes, but my work will never look modern or glitzy.
We also sorted a closet of husband's clothing this weekend, and Oliver helped with the shirts. He got so tired attacking the empty hangers as we tossed them in a heap that he crawled into the shirts and fell asleep.
I think his paw has grown too.
Keep quilting! Your work gets better every day,