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.


SewCalGal said...

Beautiful. Very inspirational. Thanks for sharing all your insights.


Jocelyn said...

Wonderful tips. I have your book "Machine Quilting Guidebook" just need the time to go through it. Thanks for your great insights.

Anonymous said...

Wow! You are so generous with the info in your blog posts! I wish I would be able to take a class from you in person. Maybe I'll win the state lottery someday (must start playing it, though, eh? LOL)

Diane Gaudynski said...

There are so many who read my blog all over the world, and are never going to be able to take a class or hear my advice in person, so this blog is a nice way of adding to the info in my books for them.

Plus it is a great way to start the process for a new book. I fear my blog posts get too long because anyone who has taken my classes will tell you I could talk about quilting all day long and then some. This also is a good way to remind my students of what we went over in class and keep them going! The lottery might be a good idea too.....LOL!

Kimberly Mason said...

Oh dear, I really didn't mean that to sound as if your classes were so terribly expensive, just that I would have to fly there to go and THAT would be prohibitive. Foot in Mouth, doesn't taste very nice...

Diane Gaudynski said...

Kim, any class away from home territory is expensive, both in funds and time, planning, everything. Not to worry, your comment was fine and everyone can relate.

YankeeQuilter said...

That is a two cuppa tea post...thanks for so much great information! Love your book by the way...

Lyn Armstrong said...

I am one of those living a long way away in the UK and I want to say thank you for sharing this tip with us Diane. Your careful explanations and disciplined approach make it all very clear what to do. I will have a go sometime, when no one is around to distract me.

Diane Gaudynski said...

You are all welcome. I enjoy sharing what I know about machine quilting.

Dena said...

As always, I am in awe of your generousity in sharing your knowledge. Thank you!

Cheryl Arkison said...

Thank-you! While I do rather modern work, I am in love with this pattern (oddly due to seeing a childs housecoat on Mad Men last week). My brain was having a ahrd time figuring out how to make it work. This post is timely and informative. And this tip about doing it on the diagonal is perfect!

Diane Gaudynski said...

Cheryl, I've seen this design done in all styles of quilting, including art and very contemporary quilts. It is only a tool - how it looks or is used is up to you, the artist.

Anonymous said...


I am SOOOO glad you have a blog! I have been hoping for a long time you would start a blog. It's so fun to visit your blog. It's like visiting you in person.

I look forward to learning more from you via your blog. I hope you don't mind me adding you to my blogroll.

Diane Gaudynski said...

Welcome ivoryspring! Glad you like the blog. I like to blog - it's so much like writing an email to a friend. And I guess "blog" is a noun as well as a verb??? To blog. A blog. Hmmmm.