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Friday, December 19, 2008

The Physics of Quilting

I used to be a math whiz in school. Not top of the class, just second. Ninety-eights, regularly. Used to yak with the teacher after class, discussing the 3-D images of these tangents and sin waves, etc. Used to have a blast with math. Used to love twisting all those strangely-shaped objects with even stranger names around in my head. If it could be calculated, I could do it, and have a ball at the same time.

Boy, has that ship sailed...

I love quilting. Both my hand and machine stitching are getting real good, something I'm quite proud of. But no matter how a project begins or progresses, there is an end.

The binding.

When I used to do flat, straight-on bindings with lapped corners, it wasn't a problem. But everybody knows you're not a REAL quilter till you do mitered corners on bias binding.

So, a few quilts ago, I cheerfully washed my binding fabric, dried and ironed it, looked at the instructions on my "Fons 'n Porter's Binding Basics" card, and cut my square of fabric. Then I cut it along the bias, flipped one piece a quarter-turn and over and sewed the seam that makes the two triangles hang like those little flags they string along car lots. I speedily drew my very straight lines along the long edge of the parallelogram that forms after you open up the shape. Then I read what you do to match these lines into a tube...

And came "bump" up against my new deficiencies in geometry and physics.

Which sides do I sew together?

I read and re-read the instructions. I tried several combinations of edges, each one more unlikely than the next. I sewed two of the edges together, looked at it. It didn't look anything like the picture. I ripped out the seam, ironed again, re-positioned and sewed, found that I had sewed the same two sides as last time...

In desperation I went to Hubby. Mr. Math. Mr. Computer. Mr Know-It-All. Mr. How Things Work.

Swallowing my pride, I asked him to read the instructions, look at the fabric, and see if it made any sense to him.

It made perfect sense to him. He was a bit uppity about his superior intellect in this matter, but he did get the thing sewn into a tube for me, and the lines were going round that tube in a lovely, even spiral. We cut something like 500 inches out of what looked to me like a fat quarter... I guess the square we started with was a little bigger than that, but the sheer length of the bias strip was daunting.

I suspected at the time that cutting a continuous bias strip in this manner actually CREATES matter. That you end up with more fabric than you started with. It feels like witchcraft. Magic. (And black magic, at that.)

Tonight I tried again, for a new project. Ironed, trimmed very carefully. Measured and measured. This time, though, Hubby was present in the room with me from the beginning. I wasn't taking any chances that boggarts or fairies were going to bugger me up this time! Oh no, with Mr. How Things Work in the room with me, I was sure no magical forces could come anywhere near me. It would be straight geometry, pardon the pun. It would be grindingly logical.

With only five or six arguments over how to cut off the selvages, how to get the fabric straight, how to mark straight lines, etc., we proceeded to the step where you have to offset the drawn lines by one, get the lines to line up with each other, and sew two edges together. Half way through pinning, we were deeply embroiled in another argument ("This looks NOTHING like the picture!", and "You must have drawn the lines along the wrong axis", followed by "You were HERE, in the room with me when I drew the lines! YOU must have put the wrong sides together!") etc. It appeared, after all, that the fairies had crept in unnoticed.

So I removed the pins, opened it out, and we compared what I'd done with the drawing and yes, I had drawn the lines along the correct axis. I watched as Hubby carefully pointed at the edges which needed to be put together. The same ones I'd been doing all along.

I pin-matched the lines one-quarter of an inch away from the edges of the fabric and proceeded to complete this part of the process. "And you're SURE," I demanded of him, "that I'm to sew THIS seam?"

Absolutely. I did it, carefully, with the quarter-inch foot on, just to make sure I didn't waver.

It did indeed form a tube, with lines spiraling from bottom to top, or top to bottom, depending on what you viewed as the starting point. And I carefully began to trim along these lines. Hubby stayed till I crossed the all-important seam, breathed a "Whew!" as it became apparent the process was working, that I was indeed cutting a spiral along a tube and we had in fact sewn the correct edges together. Hubby left, satisfied. But not before I noticed he'd been holding his breath along with me...

I continued to cut, and cut, and cut... I've got a couple of miles of bias strip now, whereas I started out with only a 42-inch square of fabric, and am once again convinced that magic has happened and fabric has been created out of thin air.

I, who used to float mental images of tetrahedrons in my mind for fun and entertainment, I cannot "see" how this works. I've been party to it several times, and it floors me every time. If Hubby had not been in the room with me, I would not have succeeded. I'd have ended up cutting straight strips along the length of the fabric and putting on a straight binding edge that overlapped at the corners.

I am mystified by this "tube". I cannot wrap my mind or my imagination around this system of getting an endless strip of fabric out of a square. I tell you this - it was an engineer who figured out how to do this. He, or She, might not hold the TITLE of engineer at any prestigious firm or university, but it is nevertheless a feat of engineering as surely as any bridge or tower.

Either that, or incredibly good magic.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Straight Stitching

A couple of years ago, while at my guild meeting, I chanced to hear a tale of a quilter who is well-known in our area and her new machine. The machine was one of those high-end models, lots of bells & whistles, as they say, a top-of-the-line machine. The story involved our Famous Quilter sending it back to the store several times, and finally cancelling the order altogether...

Because the machine didn't sew straight.

The machine....

I laughed, at the time. I thought, boy has she ever got an ego! Everybody knows you have to make adjustments while the machine is sewing!

But this past week, I began to wonder - is that true?

See, I'm a bit of a I naturally assume when a line has become a tangent, that it's my fault. That it's me that's "off", not the machine!

My recent foray into making thread scarves has caused me to be sewing a LOT of "straight" lines. The scarves are made entirely of thread, so there's a lot of straight lines to be sewn onto water-soluble stabilizer. That stitching forms a grid, and then you embellish the grid and end up with an astonishing work of wearable art.

But my point is, my lines aren't REALLY straight.

At first I was rushing - going at the machine's top speed. Going that fast, I had to quickly adjust the fabric as it was being pulled under the needle, left-right-more right- left left left... And after a while I could see clearly that the machine had a preference. I have to hold my fabric at a ten degree angle to the right in order to sew a straight line.

Maybe I'm pulling too hard, I thought. I dropped the speed right down, and quickly learned that no, speed wasn't doing it - the machine sews straight at a ten degree angle.

I began to re-think my opinion of Famous Quilter.

I had always assumed that if I put my 1/4-inch foot on and crawled carefully along at a snail's pace, that my seams would all end up straight and 1/4-inch wide. I'd often wondered, when looking at my seams later, how in the world they could be so inaccurate, swerving off to one side all the time.

Now, I believe firmly the adage that "It's a poor workman who blames the tools!" And I also remembered reading something out of my grandmother's antique Singer sewing book about "practicing" getting the seams straight. So I'd taken it for granted that some skill was in fact involved in getting a straight line produced. I've been making adjustments all my sewing life.

I wonder if this is why many people give up on trying to sew!

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I have a quilting business. But one would hardly know.

I used to have a website, and an email connected to it. I'm currently having a disagreement with my web service provider, so they disabled the site. Fair enough. Once we get settled, I'll go to a new service provider and I'll be, as they say, "back in business."

Well... maybe.

The problem with web sites is, one has to develop it and maintain it. This means content.

Sigh. Content.

That means, for example, I have to list, and possibly show pictures of, what I sell. Everything I sell.

Well, I sell anything that Quilt Source Canada sells, since they sell wholesale to me and I sell retail!

But they don't do something called "drop-shipping", which means you have to come to me to buy what I sell.

Which kind of defeats the purpose of having my own web site! I mean, whoever you are, reading this, you might live in Botswana for all I know! You're not going to fly here to pick up ten needles! And I'm not flying over to you anytime soon!

Sure, I can place your order. Then they ship it to me, and then I'd ship it to you. And of course, if I'm going to make any money at all doing this, I have to charge you shipping, on top of the suggested retail price. And tax.

Making your order twice as expensive. It's easier and cheaper for you to go to a quilt store. Which defeats the whole purpose of me having a web site! So there I've gone and done all that work for nothing!

You see the problem.

Now, companies that sell directly to customers, like Amazon, have some kind of deal with their suppliers. Their suppliers ship the stuff to you, but send their bill to Amazon. Amazon bills you, over the internet. Amazon charges you the shipping costs and the taxes and exchange, if stuff is coming from the States. You get to pay all this first. Amazon gets to sit on your money. They pay their supplier for the article and for the shipping. They don't pay the same price you pay. That's how they make money.

But QuiltSource doesn't drop-ship. So there we are.

I live in the Montreal area. I'll sell you anything you want, and I can even deliver it to you if you're not too far from me. But I don't have thousands of dollars, nay, tens-of-thousands - to buy a huge stock of stuff and pay shipping and tax and have sitting around waiting for people to buy from me!

It's really hard to bring the quilting hobby into the 21st century! I don't know enough about business to know how to fix this problem... but I suspect there is a solution!

Any suggestions?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Challenge!

What a great term, eh? "Challenge." If we were in high school, it'd be called homework, or assignment, or something equally uninteresting.

I was yakking on the phone today with a quilting pal, and just before we had to hang up, she mentioned her guild had issued a challenge.

It was to be any size, in black and white, and had to incorporate the sample piece of material handed out at the meeting, which was white fabric with black on it.

The challenge could have one other color.

Immediately she said those words, my neurons went into overdrive. Hyperspace. Warp Nine.

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" I said. "Make your top all in black and white, and quilt heavily in the third color, like, yellow!" I said excitedly.

"Oh," she said. "That's a good idea."

"Wait!" I cried. "Does it have to be only black and only white, or are shades of grey allowed?"

"I don't know," she began, "I could ask..."

But I was already in mid sentence.

"... because I have this variegated thread, black to white, and it has shades of grey in it. You could use your third color and quilt in this thread!"

"Huh," she said. "I didn't know they had..."

"Rail Fence," I said. "I've always wanted to do Rail Fence in three different tones of black."

"I though I might do stars" she slipped in edgewise. "With maybe a black star in the center."

"Oh, cool!" I replied. "I wonder, could you do it like stained glass?"

"Wow," she said, considering the idea. "Stained glass stars. Hmm..."

"Or how about Attic Windows, only this time, the windows are black, with white quilting, almost like redwork, in them, and the windowframes are in the white fabric!"


"Of course, black and white is always suitable for crazy quilting. You can use the third color as well, and quilt in black on the white fabric, and in white on the colored fabric, and in the third color on the black fabric..."


"Now, I've seen people doing a mosaic of real photos, been trying one out myself. That would work beautifully in black and white..."

"Uh ..."

"Candles would be a great theme! Black background, white candles, brilliant yellow flame - the flames could be done as thread paintings..."


"Oh! What about taking something we always see in color, like a flower, and doing that in black and white? You know, there are a lot of ads on tv and in print where they use a black and white picture and just put one item in in color? Well, this would be unusual because the color simply isn't there. You'd need several shades of black and several shades of white...."


"Ooh! A Landscape! Or Seascape - yeah, a seascape! Picture this: the land is black, with black quilting on it. The water is white, with white quilting! And the edge of the sun coming up, or the whole round disk, is brilliant yellow, with brilliant yellow quilting!"


"Can you put sequins on it? Black sequins? White sequins? Oh! Did you know they have a black metallic thread?"

On and on, for as long as she'd let me.

No sir, no shortage of ideas here. Just not enough lifetime to get them all done!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

!%&!!@$%! TENSION!!!!!

grumble grumble grumble....

I bought a quilting machine several years ago, when I first hung up my shingle as a machine quilter...

From that time to this, the %#^$#&$%# thing has NEVER had proper tension.

First, I brought it into the shop to be adjusted. Didn't work. Then they sent me a new bobbin case. That was better than the OLD bobbin case, but it still didn't solve the tension problem. Then I took it in to be adjusted again.

Same old same old. Stitches look fine on the top, but turn the work over and it's an ugly mess. Enough to make me swear loudly and profusely. Enough to get me throwing things around the room. Enough for my poor hubby to slip me a sleeping pill, but that story is for another day!

So, yesterday, there I was in tears AGAIN over the #$*@##$! tension on this machine, and hubby decided to risk his life. He came into the room and politely tried to help me. He stood over the machine, I was sitting. He said "your tension is set at 2. Why don't you put it to 3 or 4?" I told him (loudly) that he was nuts, that the tension was at 3 already. I moved it in the "increase tension" direction according to the marker I could see. There followed a few more sharp exchanges between us before we both realized, at the same moment, that we were looking a two different parts of the tension dial. He grabbed the knob and spun it all the way around about five times in a row, whereupon I exploded, since I was sure he'd just BROKEN the knob....

And then I learned something. My machine has a tension adjustment that can go around in complete circles. Eight of them, to be specific.

Hitherto, every single machine I'd ever worked with had exactly 180 degrees of movement for the tension to go from "non at all" to "last stop". Or, in layman's terms, from 9 o'clock to 3 o'clock, end of story.

So, for three years, I'd been using about 1/32nd of the adjustment possible on this machine. Holy cripes! No WONDER none of my adjustments ever worked!

In no time at all, I had it working perfectly. And hubby looked at the other machine and exclaimed loudly "Holy Cripes! This one only moves 180 degrees!"

A few minutes later we were sitting together, me in his lap, sobbing about all those wasted years...

I mean, I'm the one who yells at HIM to read the manual! But I didn't need to read the manual about adjusting the tension on this machine, did I? I mean, who doesn't know how to adjust @^#@&#!! tension!?

All those awful quilts with loops on their undersides!

All the anger and frustration at a perfectly good machine!

All the wasted hours!

Geez, you'd think the manufacturers could have put a sticker on it, or something! "Hello! You can spin THIS tension dial 4-EVER!" Something to like, draw attention to the fact that it's different from EVERY OTHER MACHINE ON THE PLANET!

Hopefully, this time I've learned - there's is no simple operation that a machine performs that cannot be f***d-up by some geek who makes a new one. There is no such thing as "I don't need to read how this machine performs that function."

Not even to adjust tension.

I wish I could adjust MY tension...

Once more unto the BEACH...

Four years ago, I had a dream... a "Mariner's Compass" quilt, with a big, bold, and beautiful Compass Rose AMIDSHIP, surrounded by an artist's simulation of the ocean, and around the edges...

Ah! Those beautiful quilt blocks! With the names "Ocean Waves", "Wild Waves", "Storm-at-Sea", "Beacon Light", and "North Star."

In the beginning, it was going to be a wall hanging. (It very nearly turned into a SCUTTLING... but I digress...)

In order to get all those border squares in the sequence I wanted them, they had to have a finished size of 4 inches. Four inches square. I did my first one by machine. It not only did not finish at 4 inches, it could by no means be called square, even by someone with severe astigmatism! At this point Hubby suggested a working title of THREE SHEETS TO THE WIND.

ALL AHEAD FULL, I did the next square by hand. Results - worse.

I enlarged the finished size to six inches and tried again. At which point my Quilting Pal and chief explainer-of-what-I'm-doing-wrong came over and said "HOW SMALL?! ARE YOU NUTS?!"

So I was persuaded to make 12" blocks... and the quilt would now be a bed cover. AYE-AYE!! I started my first block. It, too, was somewhat... dare I say WAVY...

So another Quilting Pal of mine reached a deal with me. In exchange for HER doing all my difficult patterned blocks, I'd quilt something for her, everybody wins.

In two weeks flat she handed me back the borders, all enthusiasm, ready to SET SAIL, as it were....

BUOYED by her optimism, I entered the quilt in the Salon 2008 and it was accepted. At my winter quilting retreat I made myself a deadline: make the ocean center, and get all 4 borders attached, or the Mariner's Compass quilt would be AWASH. I worked like a SEA-DOG. AHEAD FULL. Ripped strips, added here, pinched there... And by the end of that retreat, all 4 borders were indeed attached to the (mostly) square center.

As it hung from a frame at home, dutiful Hubby helped me get it to hang straight. Well, straighter...

I began to put the Compass itself together, and proceeded to satin-stitch it to the quilt. The center rose like a TSUNAMI. Three and one-half inches high, it was soon obvious that FULL ASTERN was required.

I made a second Compass, with better basting and heavy stabilizer LASHED to the back. This time, the Compass only rose two inches high. DROP ANCHOR. Hubby and I conferred (argued) for hours. Days. The ship was ADRIFT.

At this point we were also trying to come up with names for the project. "Full Seam Ahead" very nearly won! "Titanic - the Quilt", "The Quilt of the Edmund Fitzgerald," "Anchors A-Weigh", "Wavy Navy", "Bismark", "The Good Ship Start 'n Stop", "Quilt Overboard", "The SS Minnow", "Leviathan's Net" ... and many others. Please feel free to add your own!

A third, and final version, a thread-painting of a Compass EMERGED from the DEPTHS, with only a slight LIST to STARBOARD. Once more UNDERWAY, I had my surgery, and took a week off because I could get it, needing the time to get the quilt top finished so I could put it on my machine and get it quilted. T minus 3 weeks. 21 days to delivery.

At T minus 15 days, I realized what dutiful FIRST MATE (Hubby) had been carefully not saying, in tender PRESERVATION of his life: namely, that the quilt did not sit flat, and if I didn't fix it, we may as well ABANDON SHIP.

I had the brilliant idea to stuff the extra bits, creating three-dimensional waves gently rolling over the surface of the quilt. This caused the entire project to twist like a vortex. We were LOST AT SEA. Working title now became "SOS."

So I took it all apart. Undid all the quilting, detached the borders, started over...

T minus 13 days, it's back in one piece, considerably improved, and I EMBARKED once more upon the quilting machine...

It was such a rough ride, I was SEASICK. This was the period wherein I discovered how I SHOULD have been adjusting the tension on the machine..(see blog of May 6.) T minus 3 days, FIRST MATE makes my continuous bias for me, because I'm terrible at geometry...

(Yes. I'm a quilter. And I'm terrible at geometry. "Why, you ask, did I pick this particular form of..." Shut up.)

T minus 2 days. I start to do the binding. And make the "sleeve" the thing has to hang from. And the labels, for this quilt and for the other one, which is also not finished...FIRST MATE attached the binding from one end, I from the other, approaching, dare I say, like TWO SHIPS IN THE NIGHT?

By the time I handed it in, I'd been up for 40 consecutive hours feeling like I'd been LASHED, and tottering in on not-quite SEA-WORTHY legs.

In the end, we called it "SAFE PASSAGE", because that's what we all needed.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Update on Photo-Mosaic Quilt

Well... it's a little bit trickier than I thought...

After doing some web-surfing, I've come to the conclusion that I have to piece my 1/2-inch squares together into long strips, then sew down one row at at time, one atop the other, to successfully piece my picture.

Here's the problem: The first row went down just fine. But once I reached the second row, I saw I had to fold under at least one edge of the new pieces. Stitching the down, one at a time, wasn't going to work. By the end of the first five hours, I had done exactly one-and-a-half lines, line length approximately ten inches.

I was going absolutely nowhere, and very, very slowly.

So yesterday I picked up my squares, looked at the pattern and proceeded to sew the squares together, just like in a real quilt!

So far, so good. My pieceing has improved over the past few years, and gradually as I worked I got the hang of getting the piece to be the right width. Well, almost. I'm consistently off by two threads each square I sew. I should be able to figure this out.

In four hours I'd done eight rows. So I believe this to be the way to proceed.

The other suggestion I found, by the way, was to iron each square onto lightweight interfacing and sew them down with raw-edged seams.

While I don't ordinarily object to raw-edge seams, I was sure I'd seen this type of quilt done with finished seams.

So, there you have it. I'm piecing half-inch blocks together. Eight lines in, it still looks absolutely nothing like my mother, but since the colors are all in beiges, pinks, light browns and creams, I do have quite a hankering for Neapolitan ice-cream!

Monday, September 8, 2008

House 7, Quilt 0...

Does this happen to you? "I'll get to the quilt right after breakfast. Oh, wait a sec, I'll just bring the laundry down. Oops, I meant to vaccum there yesterday. Oh no, look at the time, I have to get to ___"

And the morning and the evening are the first day.

Someone has a change of schedule. Bus tickets change hands, new timetables play havoc with meal prep and homework.

And the morning and the evening are the second day...

And before I know it, an entire week has gone by - without me touching a quilt.

One of the quilts is hanging up in the sewing room, waiting for me to mark with safety pins the areas to be repaired. So it's waiting for me.

Another is up, on a frame, in front of the rocking chair in the living room. Everything needed is right beside it.

It's not like there's any particular difficulty in getting ready to quilt! I don't have to set anything up first. All I have to do is physically plop myself into the chair and pick up the needle!

So why have seven complete days gone by without a stitch?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Pictures on Quilts

I'm about to undertake a type of quilting I've never done before - making a person's face out of fabric and quilting it.

I'm starting small, with a photo of my beloved departed Mommy. The piece shoud finish around ten to twelve inches square, and if it turns out as lovely as it does in my imagination, I will frame it and hang it up. And make some more, to give to my dad and brother and my daughter.

Lots of people are following the fad of putting photos on quilts using the "fabric" that can go through an inkjet printer. I don't know if it's just the particular types I've tried, but I find that this fabric is very stiff and looks seriously out of place in a quilt. And it's prohibitively expensive - one couldn't, for example, make an entire quilt out of the stuff, it would cost gigabucks. And feel stiff all over, instead of in a few places!

I saw one technique for using fabric to make realistic images on Sewing with Nancy about three years ago. It seems very complicated the way that guest described it, but since I'm a graphic artist in my day job, I realized very quickly this was the kind of thing Photoshop was great at.

The technique she described, as best I remember it, goes like this:

Pick your photo and scan it, but scan it in black-and-white. This was intended to identify the COLOR DENSITY of areas of the photo. As you know from your quilting experience, the density (or richness) of the color is one tool for determining contrast. And it's easier for us to see difference in density if we're looking at a black-and-white sample, because most people aren't graphic artists and have difficulty seeing color density among all the choices of colors in front of us. (Also, most people don't have Photoshop lying around on their computers!)

Okay, we have our black-and-white image. Next step is to "posterize" the picture in the computer. That means telling the computer to simplify this image, make it out of only, say, 16 different densities of black, instead of millions.

Now, I believe the guest on the show was using a quilting software for this, but I could be mistaken. But most software that comes with a scanner or a digital camera will have this function somewhere - you just have to poke around a bit to find it. The good thing is, this is working on a scanned image, so you can't hurt the original! If you're really obsessive, you can make a copy of the scan, so in case your poking does something you can't "undo" to the scan, you have another copy to start over on!

I think the guest posterized her photo at 8 densities. For faces, I think you may want to do between 12 or 16.

Now comes the fun part. (By "fun", I mean "complicated".)

She then had the computer turn the image into squares. In the version of Photoshop I have, that would be the Mosaic filter. Then she got her computer to number each section according to density. Yes, this is exactly like a paint-by-number canvas. I haven't found a way to get Photoshop to do this, which is why I think she was using specialized software.

Okay, what you end up with is a picture made up of 8 different densities of black (or 12 or 16), which, if you look at it from a distance, looks like your photo.

Then you print out the pattern that has the numbers on it, and now you go to select your fabrics.

Okay, now we're into color here. She lays her fat quarters down and moves them around in relation to each other from lightest to darkest. She stressed that this takes time. She suggested you take your line of fabrics and make a black-and-white photocopy of them, or scan them as black-and-white, to assist you in figuring out the density. Then it becomes a simple matter of matching the densities of the color fabric to the numbers in your photo, and you're ready to piece.

Well, "simple" may not be the word...

Now, my geek husband watched me working on this, went away, and came back with the same photo of my Mom, in color, in blocks, that looked amazing. Seems the NEW photoshop version has a filter called...

... wait for it...


Sigh. It's almost too easy!

Vinegar is your friend - an update on washing your fabrics

Well, it turns out that the lady whose fabric had bled in her white quilt HAD washed her fabric before using it!

She came over and together we took a fresh piece of the dark pink, wet it, put it in a white cloth and - Presto! - white became pink.

She bought this fabric at a quilt specialty store, and carefully washed it, dried it, and ironed it before using it. She'd used it in other quilts, too - colored ones though, not white backgrounds.

Well, I'd done some searching for ways to stop bleeding and ways to remove unwanted color, and all answers point to vinegar.
While she was here, we tried two different methods for removing color: one is a mixture of vinegar, detergent, and water; and the other is straight vinegar. Both had mild success. Then we tested a new bit of the dark pink - carefully put vinegar on a section that had not previously run (with Q-tips) until it was quite wet. After a few minutes I took a cloth wet with only water and smudged it around, and it did not bleed.

So, we've determined that I shall finish the quilting, then when it comes time, soak the entire quilt in pure vinegar, before finally washing it in water with some vinegar added to the wash.

And keep our fingers crossed!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Make your own pantographs

There is nothing mysterious about a pantograph. It's a pattern. Oh sure, it's a LARGE pattern - if you own a longarm or shortarm quilting machine, it's on a stand six to twelve feet wide. There's a shelf that runs over the entire sewing area - a shelf that doesn't support much weight, because it's only meant to support the pantograph - a long piece of paper, basically!

But you cans use all the old-fashioned techniques to make your own pantographs: From hand-tracing your pattern, to sewing without thread in your machine through layers of paper, to stamping and photocopying.

Just measure the size of your quilt block. (If you're not using blocks, just measure the size or sizes of the areas you want to fill with quilting.)

If your finished block is ten inches wide, and you have a four-inch stencil or pattern that you really like, you can use any method you like to enlarge the pattern to five inches, or to just below five inches if you want to leave some space.

These days, a lot of people scan a pattern and print it out at different sizes. You tell your computer (or your husband or teenager) to make you printouts at 125%, 137%, or 0.92%.... Start with 125%, 150%, 175%, see if any of them fit. It's like playing the "higher or lower" game on The Price is Right. Just keep doggedly printing different sizes till you get one that fits.

Then cut it out exactly edge-to-edge and double-check. Once you have your first pattern that fits, all you have to do is get multiples of it and tape them together.

Now, if you want to get fancy, you can draw a line along the top or bottom, or both if you're seriously obsessive. That way you can line up each of the copies. Use your quilting rulers to make sure they're "square", meaning 90 degrees, not tilted slightly.

But all you have to do is get them all in a straight line that lies edge-to-edge with your quilt, and presto! You have your very own pantograph.

I'm not overly-fond of the pantograph myself - I'm comfortable with a "meander". Meandering is like an aimless walk - there's no particular pattern or direction. But I have a good eye and I'm confident that if I watch what I'm doing it'll turn out all right. Others aren't so confident and prefer to follow a pattern, so the pantograph is excellent for them. No guessing!

Oh, and when you're finished you first line, you can flip your pantograph upside-down to get a mirrored pattern if you like.

But rest assured it's not rocket science. It's just measuring and duplicating. Tedious, painstaking, and dull - but if you're a quilter, you've already got those skills nailed!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wash your fabric - PLEASE!!!

Ok, here I am, hand-stitching a queen-size quilt for a customer. I settled on a pattern, carefully marked it lightly with a water-soluble quilt marker, and have spent a month doing one area completely. It's complex pattern of intertwining ribbons, done in white thread on the white background fabric. It's meant to highlight the appliquéd ribbons she has in a much larger scale twining their way around the quilt.

Flushed with success, I happily dampened my facecloth and proceeded to carefully wipe away the marks so I could enjoy looking at the completed section.

And then I saw it - pink, bleeding into the white background fabric. Her sashing - in dark pink - she didn't wash the fabric before putting it on her quilt.

Oh, great.

Ahem. Attention, anybody who quilts.

Wash your fabric before using it. No matter HOW eager you are to get started, or finished. No matter how much of a hurry you're in, how close the deadline looms. If you're too tired to wash your fabric, go to bed and pick up your quilting the next time.

And if anybody out there knows what I should do now, I'd be very pleased to hear from you!

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Problem with Pantographs

A Pantograph is a quilting (stitching) pattern. It happens to be six-to-eight feet across, and anywhere from eight to 24 inches high. It is a mass-produced item distributed to machine quilters when they purchase a long-arm or short-arm quilting machine.

(By long-arm, I mean the BIG names: Gammil, and APQS. There actually ARE other companies, but these are the largest. By short-arm, I mean a machine such as Husqvarna which comes with a quilting stand that is eight to 12 feet wide, just like the big ones, but the throat depth of the Husqvarna is only eight inches.)

Wow - sounds really technical, and what I really wanted to complain about were the pantographs!

So, when you buy a machine quilting setup, the companies give you a whole bunch of these lovely Pantographs. They are "all-over" quilt designs. That means this pattern is usually used from top to bottom and edge to edge over an entire quilt.

Which is wonderful, very easy for the machine quilter, actually. It takes someone operating an APQS machine approximately four hours work to cover a quilt completely with a pantograph pattern. Four hours, start to finish.

And for this, they have the gall to charge by the square foot, or by the square inch, for their services. So the average queen size quilt covered all over by a panograph design costs you $120 - $180.

I have to say, it isn't a lot of work for an awful lot of money.

I don't care for pantographs. I once attended a LOVELY quilt show in Ottawa - huge show. I stood in one row and looked at three beautiful quilts, each queen size or larger. The quilts were totally different quilt patterns, hand-pieced, perfect in every detail, completely unlike each other.

But they were ALL quilted in the SAME pantograph.

I couldn't believe my eyes that the people who installed the show put them up all in a row! To my mind, it cheapened the look of each of the quilts to see it next to the other two which were identically quilted! Why not at least display them far away from each other!

It turned me off machine quilting by pantograph on the spot.

And the worst offence I noted was in the case of one of the quilts, the size of the pantograph's repeat was SO CLOSE to the quilt it was on - it would have taken five minutes to adjust the pantograph so its design could have lined up with the blocks in the quilt - but no! It had the distasteful effect of a "moiré".

I simply cannot bring my self to use pantographs, which is why, as a machine quilter, I don't make much money!

I'm a graphic designer in my day job. I can look at a pattern and stretch it here, shrink it there, tizzy it up or calm it down - to make it fit the quilt.

And I cannot imagine the mind of a quilter who allows his or her quilt to be ruined by a pattern that doesn't FIT the blocks!

I look at the quilt. I talk to the quilter. What's the inspiration for this quilt? Does the quilter have motifs he or she likes, or motifs he or she dislikes strongly? Is there a particularly beautiful motif in the main fabric they would like to see repeated in the actual quilting? What colors would they like to see? Is there a feature that would benefit from some sparkly metallic? How about a "this" design in the center and a "that" design in the border?

That's how I like to quilt! So what if I have to stop my machine? So what if I have some threads to trim? At least, by the time I'm done with the quilt, the quilting looks like it BELONGS there!

I know two professional machine quilters who do use pantographs and their work is STUNNING. Beautiful. Perfect. I am insanely jealous! I have no idea how long they take to do quilt tops, but I suspect it is a good deal longer than four hours!

I've never made anything with such perfection, and I seriously doubt I ever will! But I simply cannot apply a single pattern, however lovely, uniformly across a quilt top. To me, contrast is a tool that can't be restricted only to the choice of colors and shapes in the quilt top - there needs to be contrast in the stitching as well.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sew What?

I'm in a sewing rut. My sewing room is a disaster zone, and between family events, vacations, and ballgames on tv, I can't seem to get in there and get going!

I have multiple projects awaiting my touch: quilts for other people, including a queen-sized hand quilt, and three matching ones to be made from scratch - from the clothing of the "Dad" who passed away last year...

I've had one quilt sitting on a shelf for three years now, waiting for me to begin repairing it. I need to photograph the worn areas, replace the entire batting, change the actual style from low loft to extra-high...

My brother and his wife both turned 40 last year - guess who's doing them a quilt for the bedroom in their new home?!

I'm two years behind on an art quilt I did a writeup for and bought all the materials for.

Zellers is running out of storage boxes of the sizes I need!

Oh, my friends are very kind. "You're an artist!" they exclaim, as if that explains it. Hmm. I don't recall of hearing about "protégés" lately - you know, you find yourself some rich patron of the arts who likes your stuff, and they house you and feed you while you sulk, study, and screw up.

I'm very disappointed in my failure to manage the clutter in my sewing room. I walk in, look around in utter dismay, wonder how all this STUFF got in there...

Part of the difficulty is popularly called "limits" these days. I've got personal items in that room, things I don't know what to do with or where to put. They do not belong in the sewing room. And yet, that's the only room in the house which is uniquely mine. So I allow things to get put there - on top of the cutting table, on top of the sewing machine itself, on top of the ironing board... The ironing board, for heaven's sake, doesn't even have LEGS! I took them off specifically so I would hang the board up each and every time I was through using it! But I didn't do that, last time... and now it's a repository of paraphenalia, very little of which is actually related to sewing.

In the past, when it got to this state, I would usually just give up sewing and go buy what I wanted. Or get some boxes, throw all this stuff in them, and store them under the big quilting stand. Where it would sit four a few months before being trucked to the basement and left to age there, while I meanwhile had to go shopping to replace all the things that I could now no longer find!

But this time, I'm going to beat myself at my own game. I'm going to dig in my heels, ruthlessly. I'm going to grit my teeth and gird my loins and roll up my sleeves and turn that room around! Gosh darn it (oh - no pun intended... sorry!) I'm going to put that room to rights so I can see what I own and where all my projects are and I going to SEW!

Do I hear a "rah-rah-rah?"