Long Arm Quilting – A Professional Perspective

I LOVE my job. Really REALLY love it. That makes it pretty easy for me to wake up every morning keen on what project I get to delve into. That doesn’t mean that every day is a walk in the park. Being a long arm quilter requires a LOT of decision-making considering a wide variety of factors:

1. What does the customer want to spend? Often I will ask the client if they want an all over design or something more custom. Some say they want to keep it inexpensive, which means all over.

all over quilted swirls

all over quilted swirls

Some say they want it for a quilt show, which generally means more $.

very special quilting

very special quilting

I was working on a quilt today that I gave an estimate for at $0.035 per square inch. I charge at least 4 cents when straight lines are involved, so that was not going to happen in this quilt. I had to figure out other designs to work in the spaces instead.

it's coming along

it’s coming along

2. What design does the customer want? Some quilt makers have a vision of what they want the outcome to look like, others want the quilter to ‘do what they do best’ (my FAVORITE thing to hear!) One super important consideration is whether the client prefers a more modern look,

modern quilting

modern quilting

or classic/traditional. Some customers like feathers,

curly border feather

curly border feather

others want more graphic quilting for a modern outcome.

straight lines and echo bounce

straight lines and echo bounce

3. What does the fabric say? That is where I often look for inspiration. If there are swirls, curls, flowers or circles on the fabric, those patterns induce me to quilt something similar.

flowers inspired by fabric

flowers inspired by fabric

4. What does the pattern say? This is really important, even with all over designs.

circles translated to Baptist fans

circles translated to Baptist fans

When I receive Quilts Of Valor, they often have star patterns on them. With that type of pattern I quilt in a curvy pattern, so as not to accentuate the sharp angles already present in the pattern.

swirls on stars

swirls on stars

With a custom design, such as today’s project, there are sometimes various blocks that will each be quilted differently. Two things can be exemplified at this point: depth and movement.

A. Depth – by quilting at different densities (more quilting in one area than another, such as in the photos below), one can create depth in the quilt surface. It gives the flat surface more personality aside from the change in quilting pattern.

pinwheels with depth

pinwheels with depth

depth by quilting

depth by quilting

B. Movement – pinwheels come to mind here, because this block is one that emulates a moving object. So to quilt it in a fashion that simulates movement also adds visual appeal to the quilt. The pinwheels above showcase this as well as those below.

pinwheel movement

pinwheel movement

from below

from below

5. Overall cohesion is INCREDIBLY important to the quilt, and with custom quilts this is where planning comes into play. Using the quilt I was working on today again as the example, I have red triangles inside the quilt as well as along the border. I haven’t quilted either yet because I want them to tie in to one another and haven’t made the final decision as to the design. Also, with the pinwheels (the ‘background’ spokes), I wanted to quilt them more densely than the curls on the forefront spokes, and actually tested out a small meander.

meander vs. wavy lines

meander vs. wavy lines

But it seemed out of place so I removed those stitches and tried the wavy lines, which I felt added the movement in the photo above. I may end up using wavy lines in the red spaces as well.

There can be other factors, such as timeframe (less time = less quilting), anticipated drape (highly quilted quilts are much stiffer), and quilt use intention (I often tell customers they may not want custom quilting on a gift for a 4 year old, it will get washed 100 times and they won’t know the difference).

Regardless of the time it takes to come up with the perfect quilting pattern, it is highly rewarding to reach that light-bulb moment and then find that your conception has become a beautiful reality. Happy quilting my friends!

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adult-like

if you are a parent of a teen, this is a great read!

mom's therapy hour

She’s a Sixteen.  Still my baby girl and also practically an adult.  Not ready to live her own independent life, but in some ways, completely ready.  Still dependent on me for the basics of care and transportation, yet capable of food preparation, employment, banking and transit navigation.  Naive to many things and also worldly with original thought and human assessment.  So where does she need me and where does she not. When is it my place to step in and when is it better for me to step back.  A couple of years ago this was much easier to answer.  As a young teen, I know that she needs so much more of me.  Now as a mid-late teen, I’m reminded of what people in our family history have done at these young ages.  My grandmother was married with a baby on the way.  My own mother was on her…

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RETREAT! RETREAT!

It’s a good thing, really. I truly enjoy going to retreats.

After becoming a professional quilter/quilt maker, it took me over a year to go to a retreat. My first group was small, and it became my favorite place: Heavenleigh Escape. This place is in the boonies. Bad cell reception, iffy wifi, pigs, horses, donkeys, cats, puppies, you name it. C O U N T R Y. And I loved every minute of it.

So much so that I went back there the next time I retreated, and honestly, despite what anyone else says about the other amazing places in DFW (there are A LOT of them), this will ALWAYS be my first choice.

I used to bring tubs and tubs of fabric, figuring I was unsure of what I would want to work on, so I should bring all the stuff I MIGHT want to work on. As my retreat savvy grew, my ratio began to change. Now I bring significantly more food than fabric. Ha ha. BUT I do now WHAT EXACTLY to bring with respect to my UFO’s (unfinished objects).

I have had the opportunity to attend four retreats this year. The one before the last was impromptu. It was held up north in the boonies, and they claimed to have tools for the quilters for cutting and ironing, as well as a store attached to the retreat center. They did indeed have all that, but the cutting boards were so worn and the cutting blades so dull that it was really hard to do a good job cutting anything. There was only one ironing station, so that was a bottleneck as well.

This taught me to never assume what would be available at retreat. I am not one to bring along my own cutting mat and ruler and itty bitty ironing pad and mini iron, so instead, I make advanced preparations so I can be productive anyway, despite the conditions I walk into.

The last retreat was in Scottsdale AZ, so I had to rent a machine and fly my stuff out. So I  absolutely had be prepared for anything. I had no idea what the conditions would be, how many people would be there, the number of cutting or ironing stations. But I knew, if I showed up with my projects mostly precut, I would be able to keep sewing and do my ironing when the station was open, without it stopping my progress altogether.

So I went through my scraps and pictures torn from magazines of quilts I wanted to make the week prior to going, and matched them up. If I needed 2.5″ squares, I precut my squares and strips in advance. If I needed other sizes, I cut those too, and stuck them in a ziplock bag with the photo so I’d know what went with what.

In the end, this resulted in amazing productivity. During both retreats I got a TON of work done. Now I need to put a lot of borders on and get some stuff quilted!

dimes and quarters 1

dimes and quarters 1

dimes and quarters 2

dimes and quarters 2

dimes and quarters 3

dimes and quarters 3

pillow or mini? leftover blocks

pillow or mini? leftover blocks

With this pattern, I cut everything in advance so I had enough for 3 quilt tops. Each block has fairy frost background and the ugliest scraps I could find as the concentric circles. I had time the week before retreat to sew on the circles and trim the backside, but not to lay out and assemble them into tops. This one above was extra, so it might end up a wall hanging or a table topper or a pillow.

64 patch

64 patch

scrappy iguana

scrappy iguana

The two above will be charity quilts, because they were basically near assembled when given to me. The blocks themselves were done, and with the 64 patch I finished the last block, found some sashing I liked and finished it. The iguana blocks were done, so they just needed putting together. Thanks Diane W. for the scraps – someone will enjoy these gifts when I get around to quilting them!!

Japanese trees

Japanese trees

table runner

table runner

The top one was scrap Japanese print fabrics in various sized triangles that I trimmed to one size and offset with the tan, then sashed in black between the triangles and around them. I like the end result. The black and batik squares were put together in strips of 5 squares. So I figured this was ready to become a table runner, I just needed to add a few squares so they were every other and each row was the same length. I found the borders from fabric I had at retreat with me, so this one just needs quilting!

crazy bird

crazy bird

My second attempt at hand embroidery, I changed his legs a little bit. He just needs a frame now!

postcards

postcards

I learned to make fabric postcards at my retreat too, so I made three!!!

seaside

seaside

confetti

confetti

These two were made entirely of batik scraps. I cut them prior to retreat and when I showed up I could just sew and sew. They went together quickly and easily!

rhubarb pie

rhubarb pie

The photo of this kit in the magazine showed pinks and greens, but I wanted to use browns and reds, and already had some squares in those colors cut up. So I cut some additional strips and had enough to make a pretty big quilt. I did have to adjust at retreat because I didn’t have enough for the quilt I had planned to make – this was due to my failure to look at the size of the quilt in the photo. I had to shave off a row and a column. I think this one is plenty big.

bricks

bricks

I brought this stack of fat quarters (I think I had 6 or 7), with the flower fabric being the tie in that all the other fabrics matched. I cut them into 4″ x 10″ blocks and sewed them together. Boom. Took maybe three hours for this quilt to be cut and finished!

bright log cabin

bright log cabin

And finally this beauty. I actually wasn’t sure what I would do and decided AT retreat. I had brought a bunch of black scraps, knowing I would base a lot of projects at this particular retreat with blacks, so I could use them in a number of ways. Based on the number of squares I had, doing the setting looked best this way (rather than an offset looking diamond). Yesterday I added borders and quilted it and I LOVE how it turned out!

log cabin finished

log cabin finished

What can I say? I love my job. Sometimes I need to quilt, and sometimes I need to sew.

Maria The Quilter

In light of colder weather approaching, I felt it my responsibility to repost this. My children and I were probably lucky to survive, and of course, we never even thought it could happen to us…

I decided to post this because I saw a story on the news last night about a small local church that had a CO leak and 4 people that suffered carbon monoxide poisoning. I have had this experience personally, and it is terribly scary to realize how easily my entire family could have perished. Especially when you consider how simple it is to avoid this type of tragedy.

It happened about 4 years ago. I had been suffering from migraines already, and of course flu and allergies cause their share of illness. One night in particular, I awoke around 2a and felt nauseous. I went to the bathroom and threw up, then went back to bed…

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Fabric Choices

OK, this is quite a subjective topic, and can be one of much contemplation and discussion. I can tell you without bias that there are most definitely different levels of quality fabric to begin with. On top of that, the dying process differs, so sometimes you may have a stiffer fabric that looks deeply colored, but once washed it becomes soft and the color bleeds all over your other fabric. Some fabrics are made with threads already dyed, so they will give you less trouble.

Let me begin by saying that if you shop at a craft store, you will get craft store quality fabric. If you shop at a sewing store, you will get better quality fabric. If you shop at a quilt shop, you will most definitely get THE BEST quality fabric available. Ever notice how expensive the fabric is in a quilt shop? THAT IS WHY! It tends to be higher thread count, new or prevalent lines and popular fabric designers. Don’t trust me? Go to the three types of stores and buy a fat quarter and test it out – feel it out. There will be a difference!!

The source for their fabric is very reputable and you can often find it online, but online you can’t touch and see in person what you are looking at, which can make a difference if you need that particular color for a project. I have fabrics bought online that I love, and some that the color seems weird when it arrives and I’m not really sure what to do with it.

But some online shops you will come to trust, knowing that they ALWAYS have fabric that is good thick quality, soft and supple. You’ll just have to ask around or order samples until you can be sure.

The fabric I am showcasing below is what I believe to be high quality fabric, but brings another point to attention. Fabrics are dyed by different means; they have always been treated differently. Some you can tell by looking at the back of the fabric if the dye soaked through or the threads were dyed prior to weaving, if it was surface coated or how much of any pattern on the fabric is showing on the back.

As an appraiser, oftentimes we look to the seams or any tears in the quilt for information on color fade – whatever is inside the seam will not have faded.

 This particular fabric came to my attention when I began to quilt it, and the fabric seemed to pull. I changed my quilting needle, but the result continued. Once I looked at the back of the fabric I realized what was happening.

The needle punched through the fabric as I quilted it, and when that happened, some of the threads in the fabric turned just a bit, causing the white of the undyed portion to show through on the top. It didn’t happen at all in the green, which was dyed through the fabric.

Once washed, this quilt top will probably tighten up and the white portion of the threads will become less noticable.

There are really two lessons here:

1. If your quilter returns a quilt to you that has white striations in a certain fabric, realize that it may just be due to the method by which the fabric was dyed. You can always ask if they used a new needle on your quilt (that answer should always be yes).

2. If you don’t want the possibility of this occurring in your quilt, check the fabric back prior to buying it.

Washing Antique Quilts

Ordinarily I would not recommend doing this, but of course it is up to the individual and the circumstances. I would like to showcase an example and let the reader make their own decisions as to whether or not they should perform something similar to their quilt.

I happened to have a quilt made by my great grandmother that I had appraised last year. It turned out to be valued low due to condition issues, mostly water and age stains, as well as a funny smell and a dingy fade to the overall quilt. So I figured if I washed it and it didn’t turn out so well, I wouldn’t have lost much. I mean, it is an invaluable heirloom to me, but I do have 6 or 7 other quilts of hers to cherish.

So I decided to test this product I’d recently heard of called Retro Clean.

The operation went in this order, specifically:

1. Filled the bathtub with lukewarm water and let it sit for 20 minutes (to let the chlorine evaporate).

2. Place the quilt gently into the tub, pushing it down into the water to ensure the water penetrates the fibers. At this point my bathwater turned very yellow, which indicated to me that I was already making progress.

 So I removed the tub drain to let the water out. I lightly folded up the quilt so I could push a bit more water out of it, once it had drained from the tub and removed the quilt to the edge of the tub.

3. Refill the bathtub with lukewarm water and let it sit for another 20 minutes. Resubmerge the quilt and gently move it around in the water. Again my water turned yellow, so again I drained it, and repeated the process again.

4. Moving along… Fill the tub, add the sample size pouch of Retro Clean and let it sit for 20 minutes. Submerge quilt. The directions state that the quilt needs to be completely submerged in the water for 2 days, preferrably in the sunlight. Well, I couldn’t get every bit of the quilt to stay under water without a towel laid over it, so that’s what I did. I let it sit for 2 days.

5. Drain the water. Now comes the toughest part. Removing the quilt from the water without damaging any of the fragile fibers is the most concerning step of the process. So I used the towel to encase the quilt and brought it outside. I used a white sheet to cover the trampoline out back and put the quilt over it. It was dry the next morning.

As you can see from the pictures, I had fantastic results in this case. My quilt was in very good condition (only one small tear), being assembled in the 1920’s.

Quilts from earlier periods may have material or thread that have migrating dyes or cuastic mordants, causing color bleed and material disintegration. To prevent these issues from occurring, you MUST ensure your quilt will react positively to a water bath PRIOR to placing it in one. The best test you can perform is to test a very small section of the fabric in each color with the water in advance. Or consult a conservation specialist.

So consider this a product review. If you DO make the decision to bathe your quilt, I would recommend using ORVUS soap or RETRO CLEAN. But before you take action, be absolutely sure you want to take this step.

Best of luck my friends!

Sports jersey quilt

In this case, it was hockey jerseys. And the boy-man that wore these jerseys was NOT small.

hockey jersey quilt

This quilt was quite hard to make due to it’s size (it’s a queenie) and the weight of the jerseys. There were 25 panels to deal with, each measuring 17″ wide by 18″ long.

Eachc panel was stabilized and trimmed, then sashing added to give a little separation to each panel. I appliqued a few patches with the team names onto the top and quilted it in my steadfast manly stitch style.

This is a great stitch to use with tough materials.

triangular meander

 

With parts of these jerseys very thick (like the necklines and the patches) I had to be very careful with my hopping foot to get over those spaces for an even stitch.

So my main point is that really, a quilt can be made not just from t-shirts, or even baby clothing. This quilt required the same thought process of a t-shirt quilt = use stabilizer for each block, trim it square, be aware of stretching while attaching sashing, iron, trim, iron, trim, etc. Then when quilting, watch out for the trouble-generating areas, like where there were thick seams.

You can make a quilt out of home decor fabric if you like. Just consider how the fabric will react in each stage of the process (buckling, stretching) so you can work with it for a great end result. And look for resources to help you (most quilters are super happy to share info). Happy quilting my friends!