It was sunny finally, so I found an old class sample piece where I had done some demo quilting. This quilting is always iffy, in that I usually am using someone else's machine, am sitting at a bad height so my eyes can't focus correctly, maybe the wrong color of thread, and everything on the machine is a bit different to me.
I do understand when you take classes that this happens to all of you too! I try and reassure students that it will indeed be better at home, so I tried that theory myself to warm up the machine and see if my old hands and eyes could still do this.
The piece I unearthed was done on some lovely green cotton fabric with bright gold thread, perhaps bright yellow, hard to tell with fine thread after the quilting is done what color it actually was on the spool. Fine silk thread takes on a new shade once the quilting is done and it is affected by the color of the fabric. Good to know, good to use this info when you choose thread color.
I threaded up some shimmery chartreuse #100 YLI silk thread in my trusty Bernina and decided to echo the awkward feather plume I had done as a demo. The tension was off on the previously quilted feather, the stitches were a bit large, the feather was stilted and boring. It was a demo. But, for a warm-up for me, it was fine.
Echo quilting is my favorite background, so I set to it, found that after a few stitches it all came back just fine. That muscle memory that is forged while quilting will still be there with the gentle nudge of practicing. If you cannot do any machine quilting for long periods of time, usually a brief warm-up while really trying to do well will bring it all back.
Don't practice and stitch with no care; always try to do your best.
Because there is no stress involved as with this feather project (it was already not great, how could I make it worse?) you will be relaxed, and that is the key ingredient to good free motion work. As soon as you tense up and think "I am going to ruin this quilt" then you WILL quilt below your skill level. Stop, regroup, relax, let it go. If it takes doing some warm-up quilting or practicing to feel confident, do it. It all adds to the greater good of making you a better quilter.
Here is the finished work - it turned out great. I could still quilt, oh happy day. I quilted for quite awhile and it was so good to hear the sound of the machine and feel so relaxed again. Oliver napped in the chair by me on an old quilt, content to see me working again in his favorite room, the forbidden room.....
The echo quilting is about 1/8" apart; the feathers are giant!
I do like to vary the shades of thread as I quilt. I don't use variegated threads often, although they are beautiful and do magic tricks on your quilt when you need that. Instead, I prefer to stop and switch out the thread color as I choose. This gives you more control in the finished "look" and is kind of fun as well. It gives you that moment to stop, step back, assess what you've done and decide what's next, a bit like tasting the soup as it is simmering to check the seasonings.
Below, a detail from my quilt "Shadows of Umbria," now part of the collection at the National Quilt Museum. The freehand feathers create movement in this very structured design, giving it softness and grace. I changed out the thread colors frequently to lighten the background, deepen the feathers. The urn was not freehand; I drew it and traced it to the quilt.
I also used several dye lots of the hand dyed Cherrywood sueded cotton for the background areas to take away from the flatness of only one shade for the entire background. This created more dimension and oddity to the quilt, looked less modern and less planned out. This fabric quilts up so beautifully - the stitches marry well with it and mistakes are not as visible, tension is easy to get right. I pre-wash it and press with a touch of starch before using it for piecing.
I've added a link to my blog list for Why Quilts Matter: Politics, Art & History, the nine-part documentary produced by The Kentucky Quilt Project: www.whyquiltsmatter.org. The series has aired on 200+ PBS stations, and is also available on DVD.
They offer a special discount of 40% on orders of four or more DVDs to quilt guilds: http://www.whyquiltsmatter.org/welcome/quilt-guild-discount-offer-for-the-documentary-why-quilts-matter-history-art-politics/. They have a weekly blog that currently publishes a new post every Monday: http://www.whyquiltsmatter.org/welcome/blog/.
They have a guest post every month by collector and blogger, Bill Volckening (Wonkyworld) as well. Recent post topics have included a virtual quilt show of holiday-related quilts; quilts made by quilters for comfort and healing (featuring the Hurricane Sandy Quilts & Blanket Drive, the Alzheimer’s Art Quilt Initiative, and the Quilts of Valor Foundation); wool quilts; a report from Houston 2012; and various noteworthy exhibits (e.g., Civil War quilts at the New England Quilt Museum, the High Fiber fundraiser at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles, and an exhibit of politically themed quilts from the American Folk Art Museum at the Boca Raton Museum of Art).
Profits from sales of the DVD, Discussion Guide, and DVD/Guide package are returned to The Kentucky Quilt Project to fund new educational resources for quilters and quilt scholars. So check it out!
If you are not working on quilting but doing other things, take some time to sit at your machine and do a little practice and reinforcement. Try a thread color you normally would not choose, do a new design until it becomes easy. Save it and refer to it for your next project. Sometimes I tack these up on the wall or I forget all about them.
Below, my homemade pizza we had for Christmas dinner, yummy, spinach and tomatoes were our nod to red and green for the holiday.
Keep quilting; your work gets better every time you quilt!