Saturday, February 4, 2017

Long Arm Practice

This is putting the horse ahead of the cart because I have a lot to tell you about my marathon session at the long arm shop last Tuesday, but before I get to that, let me tell you what I did today.

When there on Tuesday, they mentioned that they were having an event today to work on Quilts of Valor. (If you're not familiar with the project, check it out here.) They invited me back and I said I'd think about it.

The idea is that some people make tops for Quilts of Valor and then many of them get turned over to long armers or, in this case, a long arm shop to be quilted. Besides events like this, the store gets many of them done at shows when they want to have the computer-controlled machine going. (A quiet machine gets no attention. A machine quilting all by itself? That gets a lot of attention!) The quilts get quilted and the shop doesn't have to waste a lot of fabric for the demonstrations.

I got enough done during the week that I decided I could go to the store for a few hours to participate. When I got there, they let me chose a quilt top and helped me get set up on the machine. Having been there working on a machine just a few days ago, it was all very familiar and doing it again so soon really to reinforce what I had learned.

The woman helping me set up recognized the name of the maker of the quilt top and told me that this woman has Alzheimers and this is the only pattern she does any more. It's touching that even though her abilities are likely very diminished from what they once were, she is still able to contribute such beautiful work.
 (I recognized the green fabric on the top because it's one of the ones I used in my Mt Robson quilt!)

Unlike Tuesday, I chose to quilt with a pantograph which produces an all-over design. I looked through the available selection and chose this triple scallop:
In this case, I followed the solid line. You can see there's also a dotted wave, but I think that was just a second option on the same pattern--not something that was supposed to be combined. (The dotted scallops on the top and bottom are there as registration marks only.)
With a pantograph, you sew from behind the machine, making the red laser dot follow the line on the pattern. You aren't watching the quilt at all! In the photo above, I would be standing behind the thread (you can just make out one of the black handles just behind the thread cone--that's where my left hand would be) and the machine is stitching on the quilt between the curvy handles you can see near the top of the picture.

We chose a gold thread with a greenish tinge and it went very well with the fabrics. It likely will be hard to see because it blends so well, but you might be able to make out the stitching in this pic:
I was largely self-sufficient while I worked. They checked in every now and then, but the machine worked well and I was remembering what I learned in the class. :)

I didn't realize (or remember) that they provided food for lunch so we all stopped for a break at the same time. I think there were three people sewing (including me), one person there to facilitate and help those who needed it, and about three employees.

As I got to the bottom of the quilt, I took a measurement of how much was left and how wide one pass of the pattern was. I had about an inch more than two repeats of the pattern so I spread them out an extra 1/2 inch each so there wouldn't be a big gap at the bottom or a "half repeat".

I also checked the angle of the last pass because although the pantograph pattern was set up to be straight as compared to the top edge, that didn't mean it would match the bottom! (Pesky changeable fabric!) I had to adjust one end about a 1/2 inch so the last repeat would look straight as compared to the edge of the quilt.

If I had thought of it sooner, I would have split that difference over the last two rows as well. But in this case, the stitching draws so little attention to itself on the star pattern that I didn't think it would be noticeable at all that the last row of stitching angles away from the second last row. But since the quilt top and bottom had a few inches of solid colour border, I knew the stitching would be very obvious there.

No one noticed what I had done and the quilt was folded up as soon as it was off of the machine to go to the next group who will add the binding and attach the label. The person who gets the quilt likely will never notice. But what they will not think is that someone didn't care while they made the quilt because the stitching is crooked or because there's a silly looking "half repeat" on the one end. That made it worth it to me.

They took a picture at the shop when I finished. The quilt was about 70" on each side and I finished in about four hours. (In my mind, I had "best-case scenarioed" my schedule and had myself leaving the shop at 2. It turned out to be 2:15 so not too bad.)

Pantographs certainly are a lot faster and I can see why people who long arm for money like using them so much.

But usually I would prefer to sew where I can see the needle moving across the fabric. It's not as interesting as you might think to make a red dot follow a line! That's not to say I didn't enjoy it because it's still a fun process and the results are good. But I would enjoy more of the process "quilting from the front."

This was a perfect opportunity for me to get more experience on a long arm. And I'm not thinking "Hey, great time to practise...on someone else's quilt that I don't care about." But there are only so many tops I can make myself. If I can work on a project like this, it's really a win-win!

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