Friday, January 31, 2014

Portions and Contortions

With the studio humidity lower than ever this week, static cling became an issue again with the polyester thread, but I managed to stitch some of the boulders and part of the stone walkway on the free-motion garrison quilt. Elbows, shoulders and neck were put through ridiculous contortions while working on the very center of the quilt, even with the batting removed from the sides to decrease bulk. Again, this thing is fairly large and somewhat stiff.

Overall, only the upper center portion has been quilted so far, except for the tree foliage and the little grassy areas. Those will be quilted next, followed by the lower center portion of the quilt. Then I'll insert and re-join the batting on one side and get to work on that.

Here's the back so far (photo taken sideways). I love how 'ghostly' these landscape scenes always look when you turn them over.

Below is a closer shot of the garrison. You can sort of see the dimension created by quilting around each and every stone. Of course it's a lot more evident in person.

Dimension might be more obvious in the next photo. Compare the the upper shadow on the stone walkway, which has been quilted, to the lower shadow, which has not. Again, you get at least a hint of the dimensional difference that quilting is making.

What was mostly worked on was the lap quilt designed from various fat quarters during a 'break' last week. To piece it, I used my late mom-in-law's 1962 Singer 503a, which is made entirely of metal. With no plastic anywhere on or around the machine, there were absolutely no issues with static cling in my poly thread. Nor were any body parts strained. Finished piecing yesterday.

This is destined for the Center for Women and Families here in my town. The (mostly) women and children who seek shelter there are often fleeing from violence and abuse and have no time to collect possessions before they leave home. The Center gratefully takes donations of new, lovingly handmade, practical items to send home with the families when they relocate. For anyone in the Kentuckiana area who is interested in donating, their website is

Hooking up here with Leah Day's FMQ Project Blog, and Sarah Craig's Whoop Whoop Friday blog. Leah has been a huge influence on my free-motion quilting from the beginning, and Sarah inspires me constantly with the prolific and beautiful quilting she and her friends do for donations. Their reader linkups are a great bonus.

Have a great weekend!


Friday, January 24, 2014

(Not So) Free Motion

Anybody else ready for spring?

Not this guy, apparently. He's really enjoying the seed in the feeder. I haven't enjoyed filling it this week, though, often in nearly 0 degree weather, but we don't want these beautiful birds to go hungry!

Meanwhile, inside the house, after (mostly) conquering the static-cling problem with my polyester thread, quilting proceeded on the garrison landscape....

...only to come to another halt.

This is the largest landscape quilt I've ever pieced and layered, roughly 45 x 54 including the borders. Granted, the harp space of my machine is wide, 11 inches. Still, notice the excess bulk in front of the machine, which you can't leave in your lap without experiencing serious drag problems. However, bunching it up on the sewing table where it would cause no drag, I could barely see what was going on under the needle. And the sides of the quilt were rolled up so tightly that, as Leah Day warns in her quilting videos, it was like dealing with a couple of logs. Long story short, I was hunched over the machine like Quasimodo as I tried to stitch in free motion. There was nothing 'free' about the motion! The quilt was simply unable to move as needed.

Remember, this is not a bed quilt. Landscape quilts can be a bit stiff already at this point, with up to three or four fabric layers in some areas, plus batting and backing--and again, this is not a small one. You can't just smush it all up under the machine, and you don't want to crease any thick areas by folding them flat--hence the log rolls.

So, what to do? Well, considering a major part of the bulk is batting, there seemed to be only one solution. It's what my friend Kathy does when making a queen-sized bed quilt on her machine, which has a very small harp space. Back to the cutting table...

...where I un-basted roughly a third of the quilt on each side, and cut the batting out, leaving the center third intact. Of course the two cut batting sections will be put back later, after the center is quilted.

And what a difference! Here's the 'before' again...

...and here's the 'after.'

I don't know if you can tell from the photo, but those 'logs' are flat and supple now, without the batting to stiffen and fatten them. And there's two-thirds less batting in that front bulk, as well. The quilt moved freely! It's looking more dimensional now, especially with stitching around every stone in the garrison wall and window.

After several days of intense stitching, I needed a break--not just from free-motion quilting, but from looking at the same thing day in and day out. Usually, I have two or three landscape quilts in the works, at different stages. But not this time. So, two days ago, I pulled a few fat-quarters off the shelf; prints I probably wouldn't use in a landscape, for various reasons.

Deciding on 5" squares, plus 2" sashing and a 4-3/4" border (do not ask me what bed in what world this would be appropriately sized for), I started cutting. Then I figured out where everything would go. Please keep in mind that I've only ever made two (crib-size) quilts, and those were on the fly. As you can probably guess, I'm not crazy about instructions or's kind of a phobia with me. Too much like being told what to do. This has, upon occasion, resulted in some odd-sized creations. Like giant potholders (which make great trivets). But it's also one of the reasons I love landscape quilting. No rules; just right. (Sorry, Outback Steakhouse.)

Anyway, this hodge-podge (or hotchpotch, depending on what side of the pond you're from) of fabric pieces resulted in a combination on the design board that made me feel pretty cheerful.

The border will probably be this blue batik, which is darker than it looks in the photo.

So now there are two projects to work on, each giving me a break from the other. And a third is in the works, at least in my head, on a Vickie Welsh hand-dye.

Hooking up with Leah Day's FMQ Project Linkup, and with Sarah Craig's Whoop Whoop Friday blog (haha, Sarah is also asking if anyone else is ready for spring--I think all of us are done with winter!). If you want or need quilting inspiration, you will find plenty of it in both these places, as well as with their reader hookups.

Have a great weekend, and again, those of you in single-digit temps, stay warm!


Friday, January 17, 2014

Thread Break Update

I promised an update on the thread break situation in yesterday's post.

Well, I was somewhat stunned after going upstairs today and checking the digital thermometer/humidity indicator I'd left next to my thread stand yesterday, after my little water jar fix-it.

It hadn't moved a single percent.

That's right...not even one percent. It started out reading 42 percent 'dry' yesterday--and that's exactly what the reading was after an entire night with that little water jar sitting next to it and my thread spool.

As I've said before, I'm nothing if not stubborn. Time for the big guns.


...putting a flower pot, filled with water, right under the heat vent. Thaaaat's right. And then I turned on the ceiling fan....oh yeah, I am one tough broad...

And guess what. It worked.

Seriously, after waiting a couple of hours for the warm air to blow over the water in the flowerpot and for the ceiling fan to disperse that water vapor evenly throughout the room, I went back upstairs and found that the digital readout on the humidity indicator had moved from 42 percent ('dry') 48 percent ('comfort').

Green light!!

Long story short, the stitching went smoothly from that point on--no fraying, no breaking. From what I understand about water dissemination, the container's surface needs to be wide enough to make any real difference. My little 1-1/2" diameter jar just wasn't doing the job. The 7-1/2" wide top diameter of my flower pot, however, especially sitting directly under the heat source, allowed the water to vaporize in a much greater quantity at a much faster pace, not just around the thread but the entire room. And the ceiling fan did the job of equalizing that humidity. (I did turn it off before sitting down under it and stitching, though. Who needs air blowing directly on her/him when it's 22 degrees outside?)


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Unscheduled Breaks

Big day in the quilting studio. Today, after 3-1/2 months of designing, cutting, piecing and gluing, the free-motion garrison quilt was ready to go on the machine!

Here it is being basted with safety pins (the bent kind), center section first, on the cutting table.

I'm using wool batting for the first time. I usually use poly, but wool comes highly recommended by many landscape quilters and it seemed easier to handle. Also smoother and more consistent. It has a little more loft than I'm used to, but will probably work out ok.

Here the quilt is completely pin-basted, and the backing fabric is folded over the edges and pinned down to keep the excess batting from getting caught on anything. Looks a bit like a third border, but that's only temporary!

You can also see some new applique here, attached since last week's post: plants around the base of the dark-brown tree overlapping the border.

A few tree-leaves were also added to the border, extending from the branches of the same dark-brown tree.

Finally, the quilt was on the machine, with my trusty pin tool at the ready. It makes opening and closing safety pins a breeze.

After putting the slippery mat (not in the photo) on the machine bed and turning my stitch length to zero, I stitched on a test sample, then was ready to go.

I started with the window, near the center of the quilt. And then the thread breaks began.

I'm not used to thread breaks with this machine (it chugs along like a champ even when I accidentally leave the lid closed on my thread!) But the top thread had frayed and come out of the needle. Examining the stitches, I could see that the thread tension was still balanced. The bobbin compartment was cleaned out a couple of weeks ago, so lint wasn't the problem, and this is the same thread (Isacord) and the same kind of needle (a new topstitch 14) that I used on all my other quilts. So the first thing to do was re-thread the machine. It worked fine for a few minutes: then came another break. So I changed the needle, just in case the first one was defective. Again, everything was fine for a short while. Then came a third thread break, followed by a fourth.

At that point I remembered I was stitching through a layer of fusible web under the window fabrics. So I checked my needle for any goo buildup (which eventually frays and breaks the top thread)--but found none. "Hmm," said I. "The only thing I'm doing differently here is using wool batting, and somehow I just don't think that's the problem. So what next?"

Suddenly I recalled the first time I ever made a landscape quilt during the coldest part of winter, in 2010. I'd had a terrible time with thread breaks then, too, and it took me five days (not kidding) to figure out that our furnace's forced-air heat was dry enough to cause a static charge (and therefore fraying) in my polyester thread! (And sure enough, today, when I cut away the frayed section of my top thread, the cut end immediately zapped over to the sewing-machine lid (plastic) as if it were magnetized--a sure sign of static cling issues.)

Back then, I'd been reluctant to mist the room with water, fearing it might cause rust issues inside my then brand-new sewing machine (can we say 'paranoid' ?!?), so my solution had been to flick a tiny bit of water off my fingers into a zip-type plastic sandwich bag and then leave the bag sitting loosely over my spool of thread overnight. When I removed the bag the next day, the moisture had evaporated, humidifying the thread just enough (not dampening it, mind you--we're talking about a minuscule amount of moisture vaporizing inside that bag, because of course I'd never, ever run damp thread through my machine) that the static electricity was no longer a problem. No more unexplained thread breaks that winter. If it broke, I got out the sandwich bag again.

But that always involved waiting. So instead of doing the bag thing thing today, I rigged a 'humidifier' on my thread-stand platform.

Yep, a little jar of water. Very scientific, huh. :) But I figured that if keeping a jar of water among my houseplants helps humidify them a little (it does) by creating a sort of micro-climate, why shouldn't it help with dry, static-clingy thread? It's a small but steady supply of humidity, needing only an occasional refill. No flimsy bag, no flicking water, and no having to wait overnight. Notice that the container is taped securely to the extra thread spindle, so it won't get bumped and then spill (horrors!!) down onto my machine bed and into the bobbin area. No way am I risking that!

At that point it was time to close up shop and cook dinner. So I won't know until tomorrow whether or not this is going to solve the thread breaks. Wish me luck!  :-/   (UPDATE: click here to see how it worked out.)

Hooking up with two of my favorite blogs, Leah Day's FMQ Project Linkup and Sarah Craig's Whoop Whoop Fridays blog. Can't wait to see what they and their readers are up to today!


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ripping and Gripping

This week in the studio wasn't quite as productive as usual, due to a nasty head cold and bronchial issues, but I did manage to miter the border corners on the garrison quilt. Two of them look like this (not bad):

...while the other two turned out like this:

Ironically, the two misaligned corners are on the same border strip that had to be ripped out last week and reattached. (Oh that's right, got that done, too). However, I haven't decided whether the misalignment bothers me enough to re-do it. It might just take a small adjustment--one stitch removed from the long side and one stitch added to the short side--but that could very well make a pucker or put a jig in the miter seam. Frankly, when you back up a couple of feet, this isn't noticeable at any rate, and since the quilt is not destined for competition, I may just let this ride. Also, by the time it gets quilted, that misalignment may just disappear into the stitching. (Talked myself out of that one, didn't I? ;)

Below is the newly bordered quilt top, back on the design board now, where I'm auditioning the shrubs I embroidered recently. Still not sure where (or even if) they'll go on the finished quilt. After that, it's time to sandwich the quilt and baste it.

The only other thing I felt like doing this past week was ironing the Color Catchers (dye absorbers) accumulated from laundering new fabrics. Someday I hope to do something creative with these. You get the coolest dye splotches on some of them, although it's hard to tell from the photo. The one with the obvious spots was deliberately splattered with bleach. The only thing is, you can tear these without much effort, so I don't know how durable they would be in an art quilt or a collage. We'll see. No doubt it's been tried already by someone, somewhere. If you've ever tried it, please share your experience in a comment, it would be much appreciated!

Since this is a fairly short post, it might be a good time to mention a product I tried a couple of weeks ago. For the last few months, I've been having frequent and sometimes debilitating shoulder and arm pain due to my position and arm/shoulder tension at the sewing machine when quilting in free motion. For three years I had been using Machingers quilting gloves to manipulate my quilt. They're great, but I tend to press my gloved hands down very hard while sort of pushing outward when I quilt, in an overly controlling effort to avoid wrinkles and puckers. (Yep, a bit of a control freak, I'm afraid.) Also, I'm long-legged, requiring my chair to be high--which means I then have to 'duck' to see what's going on under the needle. Bad posture all around, but what to do? The very thought of having to stop making my landscape, no, no, it just isn't an option!

Well, a friend loaned me these machine embroidery hoops, and they just may be my salvation.

They're called The Fabulous Fabric Glide, by The Gypsy Quilter, and they come in a set of two sizes, 5-1/2 and 7-1/4, and have great grip on the fabric and very easy-to-hold handles for free-motion quilting. I used them while attaching the tree leaves to the garrison quilt top, and they made the quilt top glide around so easily, with hardly any pressure at all. Granted, there were fewer layers than there will be during the actual quilting, but I have a feeling there will also be a lot less strain involved when the time comes. Again, that's just my experience, but if anyone else has these issues, these hoops might be helpful. I'll post about it again after trying them for the actual quilting.

Leah Day has also addressed this issue in a post or two, as I recall. Speaking of Leah, click here to read her latest blog post on her new group project (all are welcome to join in!), and check out her reader hookups.

Linking up with Sarah Craig's Whoop Whoop Friday post. She did some organizing and repairing in the studio during last week's blast of frigid weather, as well as some piecing for her church's quilt donation project. There are tons of reader hookups to check out there, as well.

Have a great weekend (and watch your posture)!


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Shadows and Borders

Happy new year to all!!

After much holiday preparation and merry-making with my family, followed by much babysitting for a malfunctioning washer and then getting rescued by my sweet neighbors and their washer across the street, it was time to figure out the shadow lines on the garrison quilt. After all, there were no shadows in the original photo, due to overcast conditions and the time of day (roughly noon). But because shadows add so much depth to a landscape, I was determined to include some.

Unfortunately, it took days, and far more mental debating than it should have, to figure out where and at what angles those shadows should be. Once that decision was made, the guidelines on the vinyl overlay went from their original neat, orderly appearance... a mess made even worse by the Frankenstein stitch-like markings where I changed my mind about line positions. They're all permanent (drawn with a fat black Sharpie), because I didn't think to try dry-erase markers instead.

(UPDATE 10/14/15: I keep little alcohol pads near the machine to clean gummy fusible off my needle. Well, guess what? The alcohol works great for removing unwanted 'permanent' marker lines on vinyl!)

(2nd UPDATE, 12/6/15: The alcohol pads work fine at first, but after the permanent marker lines have been on the vinyl for several weeks, they are NOT removable with any strength of alcohol, be it isopropyl or ethyl. The lines will fade from black to blue, but that's about it. Apparently, 'permanent' is eventually permanent.)

Anyway, thick dark lines were necessary for the next stage: tracing those lines onto parchment paper.

That's because, although parchment paper works ok for tracing, it's not as transparent as actual tracing paper. On the upside, however, it is on a wide roll and you can tear really long pieces off it. And markers glide very nicely over the surface.

Next, transferring the lines to freezer paper:

Why not trace them onto the freezer paper to begin with? Well, unless you use a light table (or a much bigger light box than I have), you can't see these lines through freezer paper. At least, I couldn't. (I don't even know that you could see them with a light table, as there are multiple layers of fabric in this quilt top, and the light would have to penetrate all of them.)

Regardless, freezer paper works way better than parchment paper for the next step: laying the freezer paper over the fabric you're using for the shadows, in this case a double layer of black organza.

As you can see, the red line drawn around all of the shadow tracings became my cutting line. The black lines--the actual outlines of the individual shadows--will be stitching lines. That gray-black blob is my double layer of organza, quickly cut out right through the freezer paper, roughly on the red line, with a rotary cutter. (I used to never cut paper with a rotary blade--you know the rule about never cutting paper with your sewing shears because it will dull them!--I got over that with the rotary cutter. I even cut coupons with it! After all, you can easily sharpen or change the blade.)
Time to stitch the shadow outlines. After slipping a piece of tear-away stabilizer under the organza layers, I pinned the pattern piece on top of it all. (Note: Never use iron-away stabilizer with sheers, and remember that wash-away stabilizer will require waiting for the fabric to dry before you can proceed.)

Using a free-motion straight-stitch over a slippery mat, a regular size 12 needle and a 100-weight, dark polyester thread (50- or 60-weight would work ok), machine tension set at 2 (which I tested first in the border), I stitched right through all the layers--stabilizer, organza, and freezer paper. This of course perforated the freezer paper nicely, which made it a breeze to tear it all away from the organza. The same goes for the tear-away tore away beautifully.

The entire piece of organza (two layers now one) was then positioned under the outlines on the vinyl overlay and pinned to the quilt top. Those fine outlines of thread are hard to see here, but easy enough to follow when it comes time to sew the organza down (next step). After all, this thread doesn't get removed--it just gets stitched over--so it needs to blend well with the quilt top.

Stitching directly over my first stitching lines with the same fine thread, I attached the entire piece of organza to the quilt top. Then came the most crucial stage--trimming away the parts that weren't needed, the areas outside the actual shadows. This was done very, very slowly and carefully with a pair of embroidery scissors. I used the kind that are made for trimming threads inside an embroidery hoop, where the scissor blades are angled to lie flat against the fabric as you cut. It made it much easier (and safer) to trim the organza close to the stitching.

I was so engrossed in that part of the project that I forgot to take photos until after the trimming was finished. It was a little nerve-wracking, but a lot of fun to see the actual shadows emerging. Here on the right is the quilt top with the trimmed shadows (minus the girl--whose shadow had to be incorporated right along with the others).
Speaking of the girl, I retrieved her freezer-paper pattern (again, I never throw these away until the whole quilt is finished) and used it to cut a piece of wool batting. The plan is to make her a bit more dimensional than the rest of the elements on the quilt. Here's a side view, pinned:

You can also see what I mean about her shadow having to be planned in conjunction with the others, as hers actually merges with the shadow of one of the trees. And now, she and her batting go back in the drawer, along with the embroidered shrubs that won't be attached until later.
At this point it was time to plan the borders. I haven't bordered a quilt for a while, preferring binding alone on my last few projects, but this one seems to need it, with the hillside on the right and the ground falling away on the left. Not to mention the fact that the viewer is actually looking down somewhat on the girl and the flagstone walk. Something is needed to tie all these elevations together, so that the viewer doesn't feel as if he or she is hovering in mid-air or about to fall off the mountain.

The inner border fabric was already decided weeks ago (see the reddish-brown strips hanging in the photo just before the girl's photo), but the charcoal gray that I wanted for the outer border was nowhere to be found in my fabric stash. So, it came in the mail the other day--not by magic, mind you (I wish). It had to be ordered. We have exactly one quilt shop left in this city, miles away, and I figured my chances for finding precisely what I needed there might be pretty slim.

Here it is, ready for pressing. I love that it has leaves in it, but that they're so subtle.

So today I sewed the borders onto the quilt top.

The left-hand borders will have to be ripped out and re-positioned. Somehow I miscalculated (like I've never done that before!), and one end turned out too short, the other too long. Ah, well. It's one of those Zen things I get to do now and then, while watching Retro TV. But already I feel more grounded when looking at the quilt top, so hopefully these borders are going to work.

The funny thing is, this border color combination was used in a quilt I made in 2010, titled The Tower. So I have to ask myself why this particular combination might work well for both of these quilts. 

All I can come up with is, there's a reddish-brown tree in both quilts (and reddish-brown eagles in one of them), and both the tower here and the garrison above are cut from the same stone fabric. Any other clues? Anyone? Please chime in with a post if you see something else that might explain the correlation.

This last photo reminded me that it's a good thing to keep notes and photos on your projects to refresh your memory as far as what has worked for you previously (and what hasn't). Especially as The Tower is gone now (sold), so...all I have is a photograph. Hmm, sounds like a good song lyric.... :)

Update: Just hooked up with Sarah Craig's Whoop Whoop Friday won't believe what all she's accomplished this week while on vacation! Great inspiration for the new year. Check out her reader links, too. Also hooking up with Leah Day's FMQ Project Linkup, where she is starting the ball rolling on her new 2014 quilt-along project. There's also a wonderful idea included in her post, involving coloring books. Read it to find out more, and check out her reader links, too.

A fantastic weekend to everyone, and a blessed 2014!