Monday, September 20, 2010

Sifting and Sorting and Quilting Straight Lines

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,


Jocelyn said...

This is such a great post Diane. Thanks for sharing.


Diane Gaudynski said...

Jocelyn, thanks! Sometimes it's good to step back and really look at our own quilting journey, and think about what we like and why it works, where we want to go from here.

scooter said...

I really like that quilt! The colors and the quilting all work well together. It's easy to see that you put a lot of careful thought into the planning from start to finish. Personally, I think it's okay if the rows of straight lines aren't exactly evenly spaced...if you want total perfection then you may as well go buy one that's been quilted on an assembly line. And I don't think people notice that it's not perfect (well - maybe the quilt police do). I think people are drawn to the beauty of the quilt... the intention of the maker to create a thing of beauty and warmth that hasn't existed before. to me, as an artist, that is the most special thing: to bring into existence something new.

Diane Gaudynski said...

Scooter, I totally agree. I saw the imperfections but knew that it was a difficult challenge and through the process of doing it in a big quilt I improved my skills. Working on a top that took awhile to piece and that I really liked caused me to work very hard to improve my quilting.

I think even now, with so much experience, there will always be irregularities and they do add to the beauty.

I think modern quilters might be a little hard on themselves to the point of never tackling the quilting, or doing larger projects. Make the top and then quilt it ;-)!

Diane Gaudynski said...

p.s. I think the Feathered Star quilt was too carefully planned. I would do it differently now, but that's ok, it's done and I learned!

Sue said...

Love the quilt and hearing about your journey in quilting. Of course, I always enjoy pics of Oliver-he does make life fun.

Ming said...

Hi Diane,
What a beautiful quilt and a great post!
Even you said back then your skills and knowledge were limited, I can still see the "heart and soul" in the quilt. It was certainly well planned and executed.
What I don't like in some modern quilts is they look too "rough" to me. I would like to know what you mean "too carefully planned" please?
I remember I read in one of your early posts, that you mentioned old quilters' "make do" with their material and tools gives their quilts a personality…(or something like that) But today with everything availabe around us, it is hard to be careful not being too careful, don’t you think?
In traditional quilting, do you think there is too much repetition? Do you mean to reduce the repetition to achieve a balance between “being contrived” and “being natural”?

Kay Lynne said...

I'm glad that you mentioned Trudie Hughes. Her rotary cutting methods changed the world of quilting. Do you know what has happened to her? I remember going to see her many years ago.

Vivian said...

What a great post and a great lesson in life. I often think too much about what other quilters would quilt instead of just doing. Your work is beautiful.

SewCalGal said...

This a great post. It is fun to see your older work and hear your insights on what you were thinking vs now think. Still, this quilt is absolutely beautiful. And, of course, I love seeing Oliver helping you!


Anonymous said...

Diane, that photo of Oliver is the best yet! And I'm not even a cat person.

Diane Gaudynski said...

Ming, I agree with you. It is hard to get that spontaneous "exuberant" look that so many of the older quilts had. Quilters were not afraid to use strange and wonderful colors and fabrics and didn't worry about what other fabric they would end up next to.

I think this quilt of mine started out as a rose, lavender, purple and forest green quilt. Way too planned and contrived, yes. I soon realized it was cold as winter, added mustards, olives, caramels, and molasses to help warm it up and that helped. Now I would add teal, rust, orange, cheddar, whatever looked right, maybe even a few of the small triangles in the stars could be an odd fabric or two. From a distance it would hold because of value placement, but up close there would be so much more interest and color play.

With that said, there is nothing at all wrong with a planned quilt using only a few fabrics. They are clean, have great simplicity and impact as well.

There is a fine line between interesting visually and so busy it is a jumble. It's safer to plan and repeat, but a bit of the unexpected is always good, IMO.

I also would have quilted more in this quilt, but at that time I was still in a hurry to finish one and move on to the next. I don't do that anymore, I let the quilt speak to me as I work and decide how much and what quilting to add, and when to stop.

Kay, Trudie had her shop very near to where I live and a few years ago sold it. I believe she is retired now, but she did make a huge impact on quilting with her rotary cutting techniques and tools. I learned from her books in the 80's and could see I needed one of her rulers right away, and it was one of the first expensive tools I ever bought, that and an Olfa rotary cutter.

SewCalGal, yes it's good sometimes to look at older work and assess it from today's vantage point. Most of my older ones are fine, some I foolishly used fabrics or colors that were too coordinated or not really "me." I don't do that anymore.

Anonymous, thanks! Oliver gets into so many cute poses every day I can't resist. He is still sleeping off that day of closet cleaning which is the most fun his two old people made for him in weeks.

Kay Lynne said...

Diane--Thank you so much for the information on Trudie. Hope she is having a happy retirement. I have many of her books and taught many quilting classes from her books. Now I've moved onto recommending your books to other quilters. Your work is absolutely beautiful!!!

Ivory Spring said...

Hi Diane,

Wonderful post! It's nice to have the Queen of Feathers (aka you) having a post extolling the virtues and beauty of straight line quilting. I have since found that straight line quilting is sometimes more difficult than feather quilting. :) Thanks for inspiring us.

Diane Gaudynski said...

Ivory Spring, thanks. My very first free motion design was a feathered vine, a stencil. It was not hard for me at all. These straight lines though were a challenge. I didn't know how difficult this quilt would be until I started and then it was too late, I was committed to them.

We need the contrast between the soft curvy shapes of feathers or leaves and flowers and the geometry and structure of straight lines.

John'aLee said...

Your work is utterly amazing Diane.