Sunday, January 29, 2012

FMQ Challenge Feather Plume Part 2

Thanks for all your enthusiasm and comments about my upcoming tutorial for SewCalGal's Free Motion Quilting Challenge!  I know many taking part are beginners, and also many are experienced quilters, so I had to aim for all levels in my explanation of quilting a feather plume.

The sample, above, is done with #100 YLI silk thread on silk dupioni, Hobbs wool batt, and I made it about 10 or more years ago when I first started quilting feathers freehand after years of drawing and tracing my own feather designs, and before that using stencils. 

It still looks fine.  I would do it a bit differently now (the spacing on the spiral at the base of the spine is too close, should have more puff to make it stand out from the background), but don't be afraid to learn this technique and use it right away on your quilts.  The only way you'll improve and be smooth and confident is to quilt tops.  Repetition on a real quilt is the key.

Some things we should remember:

Feathers are unique to the quilter, but they do have some basic things in common.

The "flow" of the feather or elegance is based on the angle that is formed as it touches (yes, it must touch) the spine, or central line.  My feathers have a narrow angle, maybe about 20 degrees or less, depending on the curve of the spine.  You will find many stencil feathers come to the spine at a much bigger angle, more than 45 degrees.  I call this angle the "tilt" of the feather and like to keep mine very tilted.  I'll try and find a stencil that has chunkier feathers for you to see, and show it in a future post.

I include both long, fat, thin, large and small feathers in a plume to make it look more interesting and natural.  It's not necessary to do this if it is easier for you to make them all the same, but many quilters like the "no restrictions" of feathers in all sizes.

Avoid straight lines.  If there is one straight line in 40 feathers, the eye will go right to that.  Always try and curve the lines gently, not abruptly.  It sounds easy, but all of us tend to see "home" and head straight towards it.  In my tutorial there is one straight line feather - you'll probably see it right away, but I left it in and continued.

The echo space between each feather needs to be very consistent and even, as if you have a twin-needle in the machine.  This looks really hard, but in reality it is a resting time as you quilt, as you don't have to think about where you are going. 

A nice medium speed is good; too fast and you get out of control, too slow and the line isn't smooth.  Look ahead of the needle, create the space and make that even.  Don't look at the stitches.

There will always be some "odd" feathers in your design.  Don't worry about them!  With all the swirls and curves, one strangely shaped feather won't stand out.  If they are all strange, perhaps you have invented an entirely new design.....!

If you quilt one side of the feather better than the other, start on the good side first the next time.  Take a break, just a few minutes, before doing the second side, and really think about where you want to quilt, the shape you will make.  Concentrate!

It's ok to stop, needle down, take a breath, then proceed.  This isn't quilting where your life or income depends on it; this is fun.  It will go faster as you get better and more experienced.

Be very careful when you resume quilting, start slowly so the needle doesn't jump to a new spot.  I usually begin by raising the needle and then starting so I'm sure the needle is in the right place.  On my Bernina I do this by touching my heel to the foot control - needle is raised, or lowered with that action.

Make small plumes for practice, with a spine about 5" long.  Make several.  Take a break, start a new practice sandwich, then make some more.   If you do one incorrectly and then try a new one next to it, your eye will see the bad one and reproduce it one more time.  Get a new sample so you start fresh.

Remove thread tails so they don't get in the way or distract you.

When you reach the spine don't keep running the machine if you are not sure where to go next.  A knot of thread will build up top or back or both in about 3 stitches, so stop the machine, readjust hands, figure out your plan, then proceed.

I hope these tips will help you, even if you are not in the Challenge.  Quilting feathers is a beautiful thing, something that not only is relaxing but also fills your quilts with lovely designs and gets them finished before you know it.

Snow here in Wisconsin, beautiful flocked trees, blue skies and sun.  Time to quilt!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Free Motion Quilting Challenge

Please join me in February for my tuturial for the Free Motion Quilting Challenge that SewCalGal is presenting on her blog.  Our hope is to get everyone quilting, not just "topping"! 

My tutorial will be the feathered plume, above.  Later in the year you will learn backgrounds and fills, or you may already know some  that can be used to fill in around the plume.  I explain how to quilt one plume, give you options on branching it or adding smaller plumes around it to fill your space, an 8" square. 

Once you get the hang of this very forgiving design, you can do all sorts of original feather designs, or use stencil designs with this "echo" technique if you do not enjoy freehand work. 

Anita Shackleford's "Infinite Feathers" Template of various sizes of the feather shape is available at and works very well.  It also gives you curved lines to trace for the center of the plume if you need that as well or want them all to be the same.

A set of various sized feather shapes to trace by June Tailor is also available at fabric, quilt, and craft stores.  They come on a key ring.

My tutorial will be available online for one month, so please print it if you need it for future reference.

Don't put it off.  Start quilting now and by the end of the year your expertise will have increased and you will be able to finish those beautiful tops with quilting that measures up. 

My thanks and kudos to SewCalGal for this project.  I hope all of you enjoy it and get beautiful plumes by the end of the month, and better quilting by the end of the year!  Each one of us who is giving you a tutorial will provide you with different information, insights, point of view, and all of that variety and richness will give you great input for your own work.

Click on the link below for all the information, and keep quilting, your work gets better every day. 


Friday, January 20, 2012

Oliver and His Sheep

It is below zero, 6" snow predicted, and Oliver has a new companion, an incredibly soft, winsome stuffed sheep we saw at Kohl's and couldn't resist for him.  Things are a bit bleak here right now, nothing to see out the windows, just Mom quilting and Dad on the laptop.  Entertainment is a must for a 2-year-old spunky cat.

It took awhile after these photos were taken, but soon he had learned to carry it around, kill it, attack it, play with it, lots of leaping in the air.  I'll try and get an action shot but it won't be easy.  He also likes to sit near the sheep with his paw on the sheep's paw. 

The frozen sewing machine is working perfectly, and back in its old spot across from my quilting machine, the Bernina 730.  However, that took a lot of sniffing and investigating by Oliver and now he sits there and naps and enjoys the oil aromas while I quilt. 

Sometimes I come in the room from a break and see a round bowling ball shape under the quilt in the machine, and have to oust him from underneath it before I begin. 

He only eats the thread on the machine now occasionally.  I have to watch him carefully or he gets into major trouble very fast.

I still can't post on the "comments" section here, hoping that problem will clear, but I do read and appreciate everything you post.

Stay warm, stay safe, spring will come.  Meanwhile, keep quilting!  Your work does get better,

Monday, January 16, 2012

The View from My Needle

As I was busy quilting yesterday, letting my thoughts wander, I glanced up to re-focus and rest my eyes and saw all these delightful mugs looking back at me, and smiled. 

I guess I never considered "the view" from my needle before, but I stopped a moment and enjoyed the colors, the logos on the mugs, and all the interesting bric-a-brac I had stuck in them over the years.

Each one brought back a memory of a person, event, time in my life.  Teaching for Jinny Beyer at Hilton Head, the great times at NQA and Asilomar, all the terrific students.  And multiple wonderful markers, pens, scissors, tools.  I know I can reach in those mugs and come up with the perfect answer to a problem or need.  If I sorted through these and gasp, "organized" them, I'd never find a thing again.  So they remain, sentinels guarding my quilting time. 

The quilt in the machine pushes up against them so it doesn't drop off the edge of the cabinet and create drag.  When working on a large quilt I remove them and take the machine back there out of the cabinet and have an even bigger workspace. 

I like my bird lamp, one of the things Oliver was entranced with when he was new to the room and still a kitten.  He thought the birds were real.

I hope your view is interesting, messy, and wonderful. 

Keep quilting, your work gets better every day,

p.s.  For some unknown reason, Blogger won't let me comment on my own blog lately and I can't post anything in that section.  Thanks to all for your comments!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Frozen Sewing Machine

It is not frozen here in Wisconsin, not yet anyway though winter is finally approaching us tomorrow.  Today it is still spring-like and lovely.  But, my poor old wonderful friend, my Bernina 1030, was frozen in place, no parts moving.

It was living in the spare room, and I only set it up to do serious quilt piecing, as I love it for that, the best I've ever used.  I bought this machine in 1989 and it was my everything machine for at least 10 years, then designated for piecing/sewing only as I loved quilting on my new electronic Bernina with a better free motion foot.

It worked perfectly.  I oiled where I could oil and used it a lot. It was serviced twice a year at my dealer.

Then after my last big quilt several years ago it sat in quiet isolation with a dust cover. I wasn't piecing much, and the little sewing I did I used my newer 730.   

A few months ago I set it up and found I couldn't even lift the presser foot!  It was frozen in place, everything was.  I was shocked, worried, would it ever work again??

Yesterday I drove to my dealer, Bigsby's Sewing Center here in SE Wisconsin, and picked it up after it had a stay there in intensive care in the service department.  I found out that even if you do not use a machine, it needs to be run occasionally, and serviced at least once a year to keep the inner parts working right, oiled, lubed, etc.  Oil dries up inside the machine where you cannot reach it. 

I set it up on the dining room table and Oliver was fascinated by it.  The smells!  The old style cords, no USB cable that he loves to chew through.  He had never even SEEN this machine before! 

Then I pulled the cord out of its little spot inside the machine (it's retractable, amazing) which was too much fun, and then plugged it in and turned it on.  It sews!  It sews beautifully.  He thinks it is a big new toy, especially for him.

I left him still sniffing it, the wonderful aroma of foreign places (well, 20 miles away) and oil, and maybe even a whiff of their adorable new puppy, Bailey. 

Now I am set to piece a new quilt, after I finish quilting this one.  Soon I hope.  And there's another one almost finished I should do first.  THEN I will play with my dear old 1030.  I still love the periwinkle blue they used on this machine, and it still sounds and works like a dream.

Meanwhile, I shall oil the fleet and run the other machines a little bit to keep things moving.

Hope 2012 keeps you moving and doing all the things you want to do. 

Keep quilting, your work gets better every day!