Friday, January 29, 2010

More January Tips

Here are some more tips for January, besides staying warm.....!

  • Look around you for ideas for quilting designs or color combinations. The lamp base, photo above, shows a great idea for circular feathers.
  • If your machine sits down in a cabinet/table with a plexiglas surround, get it positioned correctly with the surround in. Then remove the surround and use a pigma pen to draw "corners" on the base of the cabinet around the corners of the machine where it sits. Then every time it is lifted or removed from the cabinet, you can easily place it exactly where it needs to go for the surround to slide in perfectly.
  • If the tension goes very tight very suddenly, it could be because the thread is twisted around the needle. Take it out and re-thread. If the presser foot is up and you pull the thread, it should come through very freely. The tension is applied when the foot is down. If it feels very tight with the foot up, something isn't threaded correctly, and a twisted thread around the eye of the needle or the thread spindle may be the culprit.
  • I know many like to listen to music while you machine quilt, but it can block out critical sewing machine noises. As you get experienced in machine quilting, the slightest noise differences from "usual" will alert you to something wrong, a dull needle, a burr, a machine that needs oiling, bobbin that is running low, thread that is sticking somewhere, etc. I do play music but softly so I can still listen to the "music" of my machine.
  • Natural unscented, nothing-added clay cat litter is great for slippery sidewalks, non-toxic, inexpensive, and bio-degradable. Won't kill the grass or stain your shoes. Sweep it away in the spring. Keep a rug at the door for track-ins.
  • If you get build-up of starch on your iron, wipe it off (when iron is cool) with a rough terry towel soaked in white vinegar. It will come clean beautifully. I use a length of muslin or a muslin cover for my ironing board and wash it frequently. One student suggested putting the starch in an old pump hairspray bottle for a fine mist. I like the sprayers from the beauty section in the drugstore - they deliver a very fine mist.
  • Try adding some of your own ideas to quilts in the quilting designs--trace your children's hands, write the year you made the quilt, sketch and quilt a simple outline picture of your house, your children's profiles, your cat's footprints. Every thing the quilters did 100 years + ago is still valid and makes for our own folk art. You will find it amazing that even as a beginner you can quilt your signature quite easily. Then try other words and get the rhythm of machine quilting without all the anxiety. Your brain knows what you want it to do when you write your name and it makes free motion so much easier.
  • Have fun with your quilting. Always include something that makes you smile when you are quilting. You should not be hunched over the machine like a gnome, frowning, quilting.

Stay warm, and keep quilting.....


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

January Tips

It is sunny but miserably cold here in Wisconsin today, so it's time for some January quilting tips. Above, a Pfaff foot probably designed for embroidery but modified for free motion quilting. The front of the foot has been cut out (use a tool like a Dremel) and filed smooth so the quilter can have better visibility to the needle for more precise aiming, and more relaxed muscles due to the simple fact it's easier to see while quilting.
Plastic feet can be modified easily, or ask your sewing machine technician to do this for you. If you do it yourself be careful not to continue through and cut out the back of the foot as well. Ah yes, I have been told this happens.
In one of my classes an intrepid totally prepared nurse had a scalpel and was so frustrated trying to see the intersections while quilting Diane-shiko that she stopped, got out her scalpel, cut out the front of her plastic sewing machine foot, and continued successfully with her quilting. A foot is an inexpensive thing to replace should this not go well, but the advantages here far outweigh the risks.
More tips:
  • Be sure and check the thread on the spindle or cone holder. If it winds around the spindle or gets caught on something your tension will be too tight, needles will bend and break. The moment you feel something is wrong, stop the machine and check thread pathway.
  • Take a few moments and warm up "off quilt" before beginning your quilting session. It pays off bigtime in keeping your work at a higher level and keeping it consistent. Try to begin each session with something you are comfortable with; don't dive into the hardest thing first thing.
  • Get out and check out some real quilts! Books, online photos, magazines are wonderful, but the real deal is the best. I have a tendency to hibernate in the winter and if you don't see glorious color and stitching, fabrics, thread, you miss out on getting new inspiration and ideas. Get thee to a quilt shop, quilt meeting, quilt show. I went to an art quilt exhibit opening at the Anderson Art Center in Kenosha, WI ( ) last weekend that was energizing, fun, beautiful. I am so glad I had the chance to be around quilters and quilt art after several months of cave dwelling, horrid weather, dark days. Soon I'll be going to our Wisconsin Quilters meeting ( ) for more inspiration.
  • If you are intrigued by specialty or sparkly threads, add just a touch of them to your work and see what you think. I recently quilted a simple feather on muslin and added one echo of Sparkle thread (YLI) around the outer edge and then went back to silk thread and that touch really is quite lovely. Will I do this in a quilt? Don't know, but it was fun to play with some bling.
  • Before making a decision about what goes where or what design to choose, quilt some samples on the actual quilt fabric and see what looks best, what you enjoy quilting, what gives the most payoff for the quilt itself. Sometimes it's the faster design, sometimes you have to grit your teeth and go for the one that looks fabulous but takes a bit longer.
  • Don't overquilt. Leave some puff for interest. We don't want to be seeing all thread - there should be dimension in a quilt.

Keep quilting! Your work gets better every day.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Operation Migration

After a chance meeting with one of the Operation Migration people, my friend and fellow quilter Roberta Williams (who made the Hillary Quilt of my cat for me), volunteered to create a quilt for them to auction to help support their incredible work with cranes, especially the Whooping Crane.

Above, the quilt Roberta created and machine quilted, shows a group of cranes on their migration from Wisconsin to Florida, led by the team from Operation Migration in their ultra light aircraft. "Imprinting" is the basis of this magical journey. Hatched at the International Crane Institute and raised by humans in crane attire with puppet hands that resemble crane heads for feeding, etc., the birds grow up in Wisconsin and learn to follow the ultra light aircraft when they fly.

The entire story of this year's class of cranes and their amazing journey south to their winter quarters in Florida was documented as it happened on their "In the Field" page on their website, Ongoing work with them now is still being documented and posted, but scroll down the page a bit to read about their final arrival and flight, and about Roberta's quilt, and see heart-stopping photos of the birds flying with the aircraft.

I read the log entries as the migration ended, holding my breath, hoping they would arrive safely. The final flyover was all over the internet, Twitter, etc., with videos and there was a live crane cam as well. They arrived safely and magnificently, and brought tears to my eyes. What an incredible feat was accomplished. A species is being saved by this organization.

If you saw the movie "Fly Away Home" it told the story of their first try at this theory of guiding young migrating birds with an ultra light craft. They tried with Canada Geese to learn if it worked and if it would be possible at all, and then continued with Sand Hill Cranes, and finally the Whooping Cranes, on the verge of extinction but slowly growing in numbers.

Above, a detail of the crane quilt, a visually gorgeous 60" x 48" piece of art. Roberta machine quilted it on her Bernina. See more about the quilt, which has been auctioned off very successfully, on the Operation Migration website. I am so proud she gave her time and talent to help with this cause, and that so many people could see this lovely quilt, bid on it, help the cause, and see what we are doing in quilting as well. See more of her work at

Quilting finds a way to help so many causes, and I wanted to share this story with you, and if you are a wildlife lover, you'll love to read the story behind the quilt.

Keep quilting, your work gets better every day, and can help others as well.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bernina Magnifier

This is my wonderful magnifying glass that neatly sits in the arm on my machine, a Bernina 730. It also fits on my 200 and 630. The 180 needed to have the arm retrofitted and installed.

There are 3 strengths, 5, 6, and 7. I am using the 6 now because I misplaced the 5 and the 7 is a bit too strong, but in a year or so I'll no doubt be glad I have it.

The lenses can be tilted to get the very best view. They are high quality so you don't get the motion sickness effect that I get with many others. I was terribly hesitant to buy these, but, reassured I could return them, I took them home, put them on my machine and was able to finish my miniature quilt, "A Visit to Provence," with ease. I can quilt faster because I can see so well.

One tip is to establish the quilting size before you put the magnifier on. Otherwise you will be making designs much smaller than you think.

Check with your machine's website or ask your dealer what would work for you. There are generics, stick-ons, free standing magnifiers. There are probably magnifiers you wear on some kind of head device. I like mine because it is so easy to pop it on or off, and it doesn't distort.

I don't use it for everything. I like to see an area for a big design so I know where to place it, how to build it. If it is a marked line, it can be done with a magnifier but be careful not to look at the needle. Look ahead of it but the magnifier will show you your stitches perfectly so you will know if the tension is correct, stitches even, etc.

I was doing some little clamshell samples in the photo above, about 1/4" in size, and the magnifier made them sooooooo easy. Without it they became irregular and not precise. Plus I got a headache trying to see them, and my neck muscles tightened up.

As I quilted the clamshells, every time I touched the center of the clamshell below I made a point to blink my eyes. Wow, I don't think I was blinking enough before; this made a very nice difference in how my eyes felt.

I don't buy many accessories for cutting, marking, sewing, quilting, but a few like the magnifier have become a necessity for me.

The sun came out today in Wisconsin after a week of deep dank gloom and fog over the mountains of snow. Things seem better now.

Keep quilting, your work gets better every day.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Right Foot

Sometimes the right foot for free motion quilting makes all the difference in the end result.

Anyone who has read my books or taken my classes knows I highly recommend an "open toe" free motion foot. This foot lets you see directly, in an unbroken line, to the needle. You can aim with this foot. It is invaluable in doing detailed, precise quilting where each stitch counts.

However, there are other kinds of quilting that can be accomplished more successfully with a closed toe, larger foot, photo above. The Bernina #29 foot is included with most models for free motion quilting. It lets you see around and through it because it is clear plastic, is built with a nice spring bounce so you can "feel" the stitches as they happen, and works great for larger, allover designs. The size of it helps disperse the puff around the needle and keep distortion problems minimized. It is a great little problem solver!

However, because I rarely quilt those large allover designs my #29 foot languished sadly in my cabinet drawer. I discouraged students from using it. It strains your neck to peer into the tiny opening to see, for example, precise intersections that needed to be hit in Apple Core or Diane-shiko. I even suggested cutting an opening in the front to give you a visual doorway to the needle.

However! This past year I have found myself reaching for it many times for a few important jobs. In the photo above I used it for long straight lines in an undulating vine in a border motif. It controls the batting so well, flattens it down around the needle and disperses the puff beautifully so I can get even smooth stitches. The foot is doing so much of the work for me. I love it!

After those lines were stitched perfectly with this foot I switched to my usual #24 foot for the rest of the quilting.

I also love this bigger #29 foot for stay-stitching raw quilt edges down. It smoothly rides over batting edges too and controls the edge so this becomes an easy feat to accomplish. I was tired of getting batting caught in the toes of my open toe foot, the top part of the quilt moving along and getting pleats stitched in.

Any long lines, even long cross hatch grid lines, work best with this foot.

Every machine manufacturer has a variety of feet for free motion quilting. Check them out, try each one to see what it does best. It takes a moment to switch them out and I love having the right tool for the job.

Below, my trusty #24 open toe foot that I use for most of my free motion quilting. It gives me incredible visibility plus that open unobstructed view to the needle is invaluable for relaxed quilting, and precise quilting.

Below, some recent quilting where I used both feet successfully. The long curved lines were done with my new friend, the plastic #29 foot, and the remaining quilting was done with my old best friend, the open toe #24 foot.

I did not use the magnifier for the long lines. I like to see the "whole field" and just aim for a point for smoothness. It doesn't have to be in sharp focus. Indeed, the magnifier doesn't work that great for this kind of work.

However, when I did the close background quilting, or even the precise Diane-shiko, I did use the magnifier. I love it. I have one especially for my Bernina, but there are generics available for all machines if you have eye problems, or just want to see what you're doing a little larger.

Take some time to find out what feet you have, what are available, and what works best for each particular type of quilting.

Keep quilting! Your work gets better every day.

Friday, January 8, 2010

More Apple Core

I quilted some more "Relaxed Diane-shiko," the Apple Core design above, this time on some lovely batik fabric that was stuck in a drawer and keeping the drawer from opening or closing. Imagine my delight to find this pretty piece and snip off a small square to practice this design.

This is the 1/2" grid design from my previous post called "Relaxed Diane-shiko," so check that out for the basics, how to quilt it, tips, etc. I promised I would move on from muslin and show you how it looks on real fabric, pretty stuff, that we use in quilts.

I did discover that learning a design on a solid fabric or muslin is best. When you quilt on a print you sometimes can't see your path well, or the design itself can be busy and distracting and prevent you from nailing the method. Once the mind/body connection is made correctly when you quilt it on muslin then move on to a print. I found I was a tiny bit distracted when tendrils of color were appearing as I quilted. This can cause you to lose focus and make mistakes. So can thread color; use one that blends nicely.

However! I tried TWO other samples before this successful one and gave up on them immediately. One was a mystery silk blend in a gorgeous deep teal, and no matter what marker I used I could not see the lines in the machine. Lights on, lights off, extra lights everywhere, whatever I tried the marks were obscured in reflection when the fabric was in the machine and every single marker line morphed into the fabric and was invisible.

Bye bye mystery fabric.

The second sample I used a dark murky purply/rust print that absorbed the lines instantly. Could NOT see them when in the machine. I tried to quilt both samples but one thing I learned and learned very very quickly is if you cannot see the lines you can't quilt this design.

No, you don't quilt on the lines but you absolutely need to see them to make the arcs and hit the intersections.

My advice is always, always, always try out your fabric before you mark it all in your quilt. Audition it. Be tough.

In the past I would have marked an entire border with the grid only to find out I couldn't see the marks while quilting the design. It takes a short time to try out the fabric, and if it doesn't work for this motif, switch gears and use something that requires no marking.

Below, a close-up of the quilting on the batik. I used YLI #100 silk thread in my favorite #241 shade, sort of a burnished gold. It isn't too contrasty, not too dark, so it blends well, yet you can still see the stitches. It enriches the fabric rather than making the quilting look thready. Your errors are not magnified, always a good thing.

Enjoy this design. I like the way you can see both the design and the fabric, just as you can in Diane-shiko.

Yes, it does look fancy but is relatively easy to master. I did try to go too fast again, my impatient nature takes over, especially as I get older, but slow and steady is the secret. Keep those hands moving smoothly too.

Good luck with this. I think it will be beautiful on your quilts.

Keep quilting, your work truly will get better every day.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Lean Mean Clean Machine

Does this picture get your attention? Had to smile when I saw it online as it was taken during one of my classes at Heirloom Creations in Sioux Falls, SD. Try not to hit safety pins when you quilt!

We are expecting another foot of snow, so I had lunch with a friend yesterday and today and tomorrow will stay in and get some jobs done that I have been postponing. It's time to clean and oil my sewing machines! Actually, this is a job I rather enjoy. It's so nice to hear them hum again. Then I will quilt another sample of Relaxed Diane-shiko on something pretty.

I read on the Bernina blog recently how to clean your Bernina and it had some great photos of linty machines and where/how to clean out your machine. Go to and scroll down to find the entry titled "Keep a Clean Machine!" In the comments you'll find Sara Snuggerud's from SD and some amazing photos from her shop of bent needles, etc. Wow.

Check your owner's manual for how to do maintenance, and/or go online to find out your brand's suggestions and tips.

I do know that when I am visiting various sewing machine shops they love to show me some of the interesting things that come in for repair, or tell me tales of the most packed-with-lint machine they've ever seen, the dullest needle, the most thread tangled inside, etc.

If I even nick something with my needle, like a safety pin, I change the needle. It doesn't happen often, but it is so crucial to have a good needle in the machine to have quilting work out well.

Also, I clean any buildup from my silk thread every 3 hours or so and my machine will quilt beautifully for me, and sound wonderful too. I take it in once a year for a thorough check up, oil, lube and filter, front end alignment, tire rotation, conversation with the mother ship for updates, and it always comes home so much better, like new. This is an investment you make not only in keeping your machine perking along, but in the quality of your quilting.

Keep quilting, your work gets better every day!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Relaxed Diane-shiko

Sometimes we need a quilting design similar to a grid, but easier and faster. Diane-shiko has filled that need for me and for my students for several years now, and I still love it, the look of it, and quilting it. However, perhaps 2010 calls for a new, "Relaxed" Diane-shiko!

In this version, you have all the advantages of Diane-shiko with half the quilting, and less stress.

It consists of marking a regular, even design with either a ruler or Grid-Marker stencil (June Tailor) in a 1/2"format, but quilting around the marked lines free motion, not trying to stay on them, aiming for the intersections instead and hitting those precisely.

When I began this design, photo above, I was a little slip-shod, and sort of raced along thinking this will be fast and easy. Although, doing only the lines in this photo, or half of the Relaxed Diane-shiko, looks nice too! It gives an entirely different feel if it is only done in one direction, even though you must still mark the entire grid to get the intersections.

Going too fast and being lazy about hitting the intersections was a big Mistake! Take it slow and steady until you get the hang of it. I also did not put the magnifier on my Bernina and realized when I did look closely that I was "near" the intersections of the two marked lines, but not always precise. I put the magnifier on, slowed down a bit to a nice steady even speed, and not only did I hit those cross-points perfectly, but my eyes were not tired and didn't tear up while quilting.

I love my magnifier.

For this design, traditionally called "Apple Core," instead of curving down one line and then back up to your starting point as you do in Diane-shiko to create small pumpkin seed shapes, or footballs, you curve along the line, first to the left in an arc, then to the right, and hit the intersections to the end of the line.

Do NOT go back up to the starting point as we did in Diane-shiko.

Instead, you travel OVER to the NEXT LINE. Do not go back up the line you just quilted. Instead each marked line gets only one pass, either towards you or away from you, with a bit of "travel" in between lines to get to the next line.

When you begin going back up on the adjacent line, this is when you stop the machine, look at the design, and figure out how to form the design by analyzing which side of the line you create the next arc.

The arcs should not be parallel as you look to the ones you already quilted, but mirror image. You will get two that bulge out, and two that come in towards each other. It takes a bit of thinking, as this is something you did NOT have to think about in Diane-shiko, but it gets so much easier as you go along with line after line of arcs.

After you do all the lines in one direction, you can turn the work for the second set of lines, or quilt sideways like you would have to in a real quilt, photo above. Check which side of the line to make the arcs to successfully create the shapes. If you don't do it correctly, the design won't form, and it will look like a mass of curvy lines, but no pattern. Not worth the time to mark it!

So figure it out, mark a sample like I did in these photos, on muslin, use a matching color thread so your stitches blend and don't distract you.

Above, this is what the design looks like after both directions are quilted. You can still see the underlying grid I quilted around.
You will notice the "apple core" shapes that form. Some of mine are smaller and weirdly distorted. That was before I figured out how to do it, and didn't have the magnifier on. Now that I know how to do it, I know to be more careful to hit the intersections precisely, and have this sample for reference.
I only forgot once and started going back up a line as I did in Diane-shiko, but three stitches in and I knew it was wrong, said "oops" and back-tracked out and over to the next line. If it had been in a real quilt I perhaps would have taken out those few stitches. Maybe, maybe not.
I did mark it "on point" and it looks good, but you can do it straight of grain as well because your quilted lines are curving and shouldn't cause pushing/pulling of fabric and distortion. See what you like, and what works best in your design area.
Why mark this with lines and not a stencil of the exact design? You could trace the stencil and quilt on the marked lines.
Yes, you certainly can do that. But.....this is faster and easier, and you can adjust the spacing to fit your design needs. My sample is a 1/2" grid, but a 1" grid might work for a big simple design on a busy floral. It gives almost a basket weave effect, very pretty, not just strange wandering and doodling.
Plus, after years of teaching free motion machine quilting, I realize most have a harder time quilting on marked lines. These marked lines are there to guide you, but you don't quilt on them, but around them. You only have to hit the intersections, not stay right on the lines all the time. A full stencil of this design is fine if you can quilt on lines well. I think this is faster and easier.
Almost every skill level quilter should be able to do this design with a bit of thought, practice, and concentration.

Above, my finished sample with the blue lines removed. Nice dimension, the distorted or uneven shapes blend in nicely, although now I will be able to do it with more even shapes.
If this were quilted on a print or even a marble or tone-on-tone fabric the variation in shapes would be totally undetectable, because the lines are curved and confuse the eye.
Remember, the easiest of all things to quilt are short even curves. That is what comprises this design, so go for it!
Mark a small sample today, use these photos for reference, and add a new design to your library. The photos are close-up shots; the design doesn't look this HUGE in real life.
Yes, for you small-scale fans, you can do this even smaller on a grid marked less than 1/2".
Hope you like this - I'll try and get a sample done on pretty fabric and post it soon. Try a sample yourself, have it for reference, and I bet you have a spot in one of those tops that need to be quilted for you to use this lovely all-over design.
It can look traditional, sweet, funky, edgy - all depending on the fabric, scale, thread, color. You are the artist.
Meanwhile, keep quilting - your work gets better every day.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A New Year

It is a new year for us all, and for me it will be the start of my first year with no cat companions since 1971.

My dear cat Arnie passed away on December 15, suddenly, of heart failure after battling hyperthyroidism. I know those of you who have pets understand. He was with me for 17 years, came out of the woods and adopted us, became a part of our hearts. He was the sweetest little guy, and life just won't be the same without him. He had a great life with us, and I do think he gave us more than we did him. What a cat!

We muddled along through the holidays, mostly at home alone, and now have to get going on work again. Today I am going into my sewing room and maybe crank up the machine and get the oil moving, and see if I can still remember how to quilt. It is bitter cold here in Wisconsin so have no urge to go out and about.

Arnie, above, last fall in the last warmth of sunny days on the front steps. I think maybe he'd want me to start quilting again.

Wishing all of you the very best for 2010, see you in class!