Sunday, April 29, 2012

Playing at Your Machine

Even though it is spring and everyone is busy with a zillion spring things, take some time to play at your sewing machine with your quilting.  It's something you put off, think of it as the dreaded PRACTICE, but for me it is always a little escape into the world of relaxing quilting. 

It's not a project, you won't ruin anything, and you can work at one thing at a time and not stress over everything looking perfect.  Concentrate on a design, or getting stitches/tension looking their best.  Experiment with different colors or threads or styles.  Hone your skill when you decide on what looks best.  Repeat the design many times, spend some hours at one thing.

One of the things I notice about students is their impatience, and wanting to jump from one thing to the next too quickly.  Settle in, say to yourself that you will really get to know a design.  Change the scale, color of thread, use it as focal point, try it smaller as a fill. 

I used a leftover class demo sample to sit and play awhile back, good quality washed muslin, wool batt, silk thread.  I use the things I will quilt with in a real quilt for this practice time, this experimenting, this "what if...." session.

Above I used a class sample I had quilted already of headbands done in a variegated #50 Aurifil cotton thread, and quilted some small feathers around them.  They then became a focal point design, and I could have added a few echo lines and then some smaller backgrounds and I would have had something new and interesting to add to a setting square or place in a quilt that needed "something."

Above, some spirals that went right into feathers on the outside.  I tried to overlap them but didn't like the thread build-up that made it look messy, so if ever used, they would be isolated probably.  I did some  dark thread warm-up and then played a bit with some ink on that area. 

Here is an experiment with some larger stipple shape I call in my mind "linear stippling" because it is long echoing shapes of the stipple.  In the top left it started as triangles that I used to teach in Ripple Stipple, but the effect can be more loose and open, relaxed, but still very ripply.  It is a usable variation on something I already know how to do well, a nice design I can save and use at some point.

Some tips for playing at your machine:
  •  Give yourself adequate time for a session.  If it's only 10 minutes, oil the machine instead.
  • Start with something you know and warm up until you feel loose and relaxed.  Then try to morph that design just a bit, or add something to it.
  • Take notes right on the sample because you won't remember.  Color of thread, tension, needle, even degree of difficulty for you.
  • Save the samples in a special place, box, drawer, shelf, so that you can find them later.  When you are working on a quilt, get this out ahead of time and start thinking if any of your ideas will work. 
  • To refresh a skill done in the sample, rather than starting on a clean sample, quilt some more on the previous sample near the design itself.  Your brain will take in the previous quilting, and key off it, providing the visual you need to recreate it after some time has passed.
  • Your machine will like the time you spend with it.  Now that I know I must USE my machines and not just store the ones I don't use frequently (yes I do have several, have kept them all over the years), this is a great way to keep them up and running well.
  • When you return from quilt inspiration such as a guild meeting, a class, a quilt show, try some of the things you were excited about using right away or you'll forget about them.  Create a lasting sample, and capitalize on the experience and sights you've just had.
I know when I got this sample out I had forgotten about my Giant Fronds, and saw them, immediately wanted to use them in a real quilt.  And then the new bubble wrap design.....and more.

Hope this has inspired some of you to take a Sunday afternoon and spend it at your machine!

Keep quilting! Your work gets better every day....


Ramona said...

I really enjoyed this blog. I'm currently learning free motion quilting on my sewing machine and really enjoy the quilting process. I recently quilted using the "Happy" fabrics by Jennifer Heyden (Moda) and created quilt sandwiches to practice stitches and threads against the main fabrics. I used pieces that were about 12" x 14" and once I was done with the quilt, I used the practice sandwiches to make an iPad zippered case.

Some sandwiches are made into pot holders. But I really need to start making notes on the successful practice sandwiches as you mention. I've made notes in a sketch book, but your method would definitely be better in the long run.

Jocelyn said...

You are so right Diane about being impatient. Practice takes time, which we are always trying to stretch. But I know when I practice I feel more productive. My biggest problem is that I have good practice time, then there are long LONG stretches when there is not time to do any machine quilting, and then I feel like I am back at square one :-( Thanks for your words of advice and encouragement. It really means a lot.


Doreen said...

Wonderful post/ideas! Will definitely put into practice the idea of putting the notes right on the practice piece. Working on a sandwich made with a muslin top is my preference since it allows me to really see what's going on and work with lots of different threads and see how they act on my machine. I needed this post today!!!! Hugs, Doreen

Rebecca Grace said...

This post is perfectly timed for me. I just cut out several 18" x 18" sample "sandwiches" for machine quilting practice, then realized I didn't know what to do for practice!

Two questions:
1. Do you do anything to baste the layers of your samples, spray basting. perhaps, or is that unnecessary with such small pieces just for learning?

2. I see that at least one of your machines is a Bernina similar to mine. Do you use the BSR function for your machine quilting? If so, do you prefer BSR 1 or BSR 2? If you're not using BSR at all, can you please tell me which foot you prefer for machine quilting?

Your work is so beautiful; I hope I have the opportunity to take a class with you someday!

Kelly said...

I so look forward to my quilting! I find it relaxing, and I love just letting the stitches happen. I love seeing your practice pieces, they are beautiful and not only do they inspire me, they give me an insight to your process. Thank you so much for sharing!

Karen said...

Thanks for the encouragement - I am one that likes to jump from stitch to stitch, so I never really improve at anything!

Marjorie's Busy Corner said...

This is great advice Diane...I stress over my FMQ; being a hand quilter. I'm one of those who takes 10 minutes to practice and then go back to what I know. But with this challenge, I am getting better..not good; I would soooooooooo love to get relaxed and good one day. I am enjoying the process...not completely yet, but getting there..Thanks for this.

M and M plus 3 said...

I've just bought a used Bernina 820, after getting it serviced soon(having some difficulties getting consistent stitches), I hope to try some of your tips. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge.

Gramma Quilter said...

Great post. Love the quilting idea1
I just so happened that i took you advice and had a bit of Sunday afternoon delight myself!

Diane Gaudynski said...

Glad the suggestions are helpful and yes, you do have to set aside some time to spend perfecting your free motion quilting.

Rebecca, I add a few pins here and there to samples, and try to use at least a fat quarter in size, quilt in the center area first, much easier than trying to quilt at edges. Cut the backing a bit bigger all around too, for something to hang onto as you quilt the edges in a sample or in a real quilt.

My machine is a Bernina 730 which I love for FMQ. I guess it did come with a BSR but I learned to quilt before they were invented, on a mechanical machine, so I have never used one. I learned from Bernina how to use them, and I prefer to unplug the foot control completely and use only the hand motion to activate the machine, seems like I have more control that way.

I've seen students do some fabulous work using the BSR, but you have to learn its ways, and become comfortable with it. Always make sure you update it as well at your dealer to make sure it is as good as it can be. Yes, there are downloads for this to make it work even better.

One of the best things about a BSR (stitch regulator, for non-Bernina readers) is your work looks so even and beautiful, you get confidence, and you relax and become a better quilter.

Many will move on to quilting with no BSR, some may use it forever.

I use the #24 foot for most of my free motion quilting, LOVE it. I also occasionally use the #29 for stay stitching edges, for long lines as in feather vines or ditches, as it equalizes the puff of the batt, makes for a perfect line with no stretching.

Play with your machine, get to know what works, investigate possibilities, ask your dealer if you have a problem and what would help.

I recently went a LONG time without quilting, maybe 6 months, and after a bit of warm-up it all came back and I was as smooth and competent as ever. Don't worry about the long times between quilting, but it really is good to take some time every now and then and keep your skills fresh, and enjoy yourself too. Quilting is fun!

Before you tackle a quilt top, make up some sandwiches using fabrics from the quilt itself, and try out ideas on them. You'll know right away what looks best, what threads to choose, and in the doing of this you will be refreshed and warmed up in your skills.

Yes, use the samples you quilt: tech/phone/Ipad/Kindle covers, small bags for cosmetics or quilting items, gifts. Even cat quilts, decoys used for them while you work on the real deal. And there are always pot holders and placemats...

Now I have to take my own advice and get to my machine and soon!

Joannag said...

Thank you for the NUDGE to do some practice on Sunday. I'd been away, cutting, piecing, doodling, and it was so much fun to sit down and FMQ!

It helped that is was a magic day: perfect tension, relaxed driver, lovely smooth fabric, and my guy's recent present to me--a BIG table at the right height with a new chair!

One of your many fans, Joanna G

Diane Gaudynski said...

Glad I could nudge so many of you! It's good to do many things including doodling, and Joanne the set-up is vital, so glad you have a new one. However, until you see the quilting with dimension, stitches, thread color, it's still hard to picture plus your skill level is still idling in neutral. Making samples like this is invaluable in your quilting growth. It also can ignite the spark to begin quilting a real top. Enjoy....

SewCalGal said...

While I haven't blogged about it, I've been traveling and haven't had enough internet time. Now, that I'm back home, I'm trying to catch up on my blog reading. And, to my delight, I love, love, love this post. Inspirational to find someone of your expertise that shares insights on "practice time". I also appreciate all the great tips you shared.

Definitely inspirational. No matter what, I'm doing my FMQ Reps tomorrow, right after my gym workout and before I do any other form of quilting.


Michele Gagnon said...

I've been a big admirer of yours. Few years ago, I've bought one of your books. And then, in February, I've started the FMQ challenge with SewCal Gal. Since then, I'm practicing and really enjoy quilting. I finished a full size quilt using your instructions for feathers and leaves.
Thanks again for your wonderful work.

Elaine Tanner said...

Your suggestions are very helpful. I am participating in the FMQ Challenge and have learned so much in a short time. I will use your idea for making notes on the samples and keeping them. I recently made a "Stitch Bible", sewing all the decorative stitches on my machine to use as a reference. I think I will cut the best section of my practice quilt samples and make a similar "Quilt Bible". Thank your for your inspiration.

Jacquelin said...

Estoy de acuerdo con todo lo que dices. Lo estoy experimentando a diario.