Thursday, March 4, 2010

Go With the Flow

It looks so wonderful to see long, flowing lines in quilting, by hand, home machine, longarm.  But of all the tools we use to create quilting, the home machine is perhaps most difficult to master to get long smooth flowing lines. 

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.


Patty said...

Great article! I love your blog. Thank you!

Barb said...

Totally beautiful!!

Mary said...

I took a Seminar from Glorianne Cubbage at Sew Expo in Puyallup this past week and she gets real 'Up close and Personal' with her home machine when she quilts. I loved meeting her and when she mentioned Diane, I figured it was you. Thanks for encouraging us to try new designs. Gonna do some on my next mini quilt just for practice.

Jane Stamper said...

Great information! I'm taking your words to heart in my machine-quilting quest.

Joan from Michigan's Upper Peninsula said...

Hello Diane. When I look closely at the blue plume within this post, it appears that the feathers are a slightly different color than the background. I'm wondering if you added a touch of painting to the "tips" of the plumes or does the background appear a different color because it is do densely quilted.

Nancy said...

Your insight is so articulate details that I sense but have not put into words or complete thoughts. Thanks so much for your guidance...your blog is a treasure!

QuiltingCyclist said...

Thank you so much. I have been machine quilting for the last 3 days and love your instruction and encouragement. Am on a waiting list for your Fall 2010 classes. Hope I get in!

Lane said...

Thanks, Diane. I'm going to be working on a large flowing design on a top I just finished. I'll re-read this post after I get it basted. Lane

Diane Gaudynski said...

Joan, I did use some colored pencils to lightly shade the feathers, and then heat set it with the iron and steam. Changing the shade of thread for close background quilting helps too, and does change the color of the fabric because of all the thread. I use #100 silk thread and it is very subtle, and yes, it does give a colorwash to the fabric around the feathers, and also reflects light. This was a sateen fabric ... I think! Might have been silk dupioni.

Joan from Michigan's Upper Peninsula said...

It's beautiful and thank you for the advice regarding the heat setting with steam. I know that you recommend #100 silk threads. What a great hint to change the shade of thread! I just purchased a few pieces of silk dupioni. Hopefully I can produce a similar effect.
Thank you.

Diane Gaudynski said...

This idea will work with other threads too, but a silky finish thread such as a high-sheen poly really looks wonderful, because of the light reflective properties. Heavier silks and rayons work well with this idea, as do fine lustrous Egyptian cottons.

If you have green fabric and green thread for the design, try teal or aqua or even something in the soft blue/purples to quilt the background. Or vice versa.

Also, try adding a totally different shade, like rust, or tangerine, for one line of stitching every so often. This really can add dimension and depth and that tiny speck of color to your work.

Play with it on some prototypes to see what works. Sometimes the best ideas in our minds are something else entirely "in the cloth."

Sandra said...

Thanks for the tips and encouragement! I love reading the details of how you pull it all together.

Diane Gaudynski said...

I'm glad my thoughts and comments are helpful. I never know what one thing in class I might say that is key for someone understanding an entire concept, but that is why I throw out a variety of things here too.

Joan said...

I am very grateful to have found your site Diane. I have just received two of your books in the mail today and will be preparing some samples to sew over the weekend. I am just begining to sew together the blocks of my Patchwork of the Crosses...and I am trying to work out what to do the backing in and also what cotton to use and the colour. I have a cream Kona Bay cotten. However I could change that. I have dark colours in the crosses and lots of work to do before I get to that...and will continue to visit you and of course to read your wonderful books. Thank you for being so very informative. Its a pleasure to visit you.

Anonymous said...

I want to thank you, Diane. I NEVER imagined I would attempt fmq'ing. "Too hard!" "I can't do THAT!" Armed with your books and visiting your blog regularly have encouraged me to begin this odyssey. With my determination, your photos as inspiration and your words filled with possibilities I am on my way. I am deeply grateful.

Diane Gaudynski said...

You are all welcome! A blog is the perfect way to round out the ideas in books, classes, lectures, and now my upcoming column in the AQS American Quilter magazine (premiering in the May issue). Those have to be edited for space requirements, but I can write extensively on a subject here, and I do thank you all for the great feedback.

Joy said...

I enjoy your blog, and have learned alot, but would really appreciate it if you could also do a DVD. It would a valuable addition to any quilter's studio. Please think about it.

California Fiber artist and composer said...

This was very timely as I am starting to design my next City and Guilds project---an evening bag---which has to feature quilting, and I was thinking of something feathery or free motion fronds like we did at Paducah. Do you have a picture of your red evening bag on your site for inspiration?

Anonymous said...

Great info, Diane, now I feel better! :) I've been fming for 2 yrs, almost non-stop. but the bottom tension is still a problem. The tension is fine when I regular stitch, but gets very taut on the bottom when I fm. I am the Queen of Ripping-Out. Do you have any help for me?
donna in spokane

Diane Gaudynski said...

Donna, Have you tried adjusting the tension on the bobbin case so it is a little looser?

It definitely might need to change from how it is set for straight stitching. Also if you lower the top tension (smaller number) the bobbin tension might appear too tight.

You need a balanced stitch for not only beauty in the finished stitch but longevity for the quilt. Tight tension causes thread breakage as well as distortion and puckering in the quilting stitch.

If you hold the bobbin case by the thread that emerges from the bobbin it should feel as if it will drop at any moment (like a yo-yo) but doesn't. It should pull from the case smoothly and easily, with just a little resistance. If it is too tight it will feel that way. Loosen it a small amount (turn the screw on the case to the left a little bit) and check your free motion stitching again.

If you are unsure, go to your dealer for guidance.

Remember, only change one thing at a time. Start with the top tension reduced just by one number, check your stitches, then if the bobbin side is too tight, lower the bobbin tension a tiny bit and check again.

Many quilters like to keep a separate bobbin case adjusted for their usual weight bobbin thread. Mark it with something permanent and keep it for quilting only.

Hope this helps!

M and M plus 3 said...

Thanks for your tips on using the home machine. I just found your blog this morning and couldn't believe what I was reading. I have tried those long flowing designs and struggle so with them. Yet I made a small baby quilt and used small half half circles in the blocks and was able to do it with much more ease. Now loaded with your tips here, I can't wait to give it a try again with smaller designs rather than the feathers I so want to learn. Maybe in due time, wished I had read your tips a year ago so not to be so frustrated with my machine quilting.

Diane Gaudynski said...

Mandy, glad this info is helpful. I am just beginning a column in every issue of American Quilter Magazine from AQS that will answer one question about free motion quilting each time. Readers email me and I pick the question to answer that is most pertinent.

Do try feathers again when you get more at ease with small curvy shapes. It's the center line that is hard, as well as the longer more flowing, curving feathers.

My first marked design I free motion quilted was in a 3" border on a bed sized quilt. It was an undulating feather vine, with small feathers on each side of the central line.

You can even do the spine (line in the center) with your walking foot, as it is the most difficult part. Then try those smaller feathers, less than an inch. Good luck.

Kay Lynne said...

Thank you so much for the information. I have learned so much from your Quilt Savvy Machine Quilting Guidebook that I bought several years ago. It has opened many doors for me in free motion quilting.

Babette said...

Hi Diane,

I can remember you wrote somewhere that you shade the petals of your feathers, as you can see clearly in the 2 pictures above. Now I can't remember where I read it. I think you do it with the brush pigma pens from sakura. Can you tell me more about it? I'm also interested in how you fixate the ink of the pen.
For instance I had a trousers with a chlorine stain, I used the pen, but everytime I washed the trousers the ink was gone again.
Best wishes, Babette.

Diane Gaudynski said...

Babette, No, I don't use the brush Pigma pens, but the Tsukineko fabric inks with a sponge dauber, or the Prismacolor pencils. These inks set by themselves or can be heat set, and last well, but pencils I find do not.

Check Lura Schwarz Smith's books for the ink shading technique. I tried many things with them until I came up with some methods that I like. You have to experiment with samples first until you get the right density and color for your fabric and design.

This can be very time consuming, but it adds just a touch of depth to quilting to make it come alive. Hope this helps!

Babette said...

It's a great help, thank you very much. I havn't watched your blog in a while, so I need to read again. You always give so much information. For instance the magnifier, when I teach (my level) of machine quilting in Holland and I notice that someone has a bad sight. I will tell them about the magnifier from Bernina. Thanks for keeping up this great blog!
Sincerely, Babette.