Saturday, January 14, 2017

Long Arm Class

At the long-arm store in December
I don't know if I mentioned it, but I went to a Christmas open house at a long-arm quilting machine shop in December. I felt I was getting close enough to needing to rent a long-arm machine to finish some quilts that I should research the possibilities.

There was a local quilt shop that offered this service the last time I checked, but I couldn't figure out which shop it was. I am assuming they no longer offer the service. While doing my online research, I discovered a shop that had opened recently. They have a store in Tennessee and this is their second location. And they were having an open house the following week.

Even though it was a bit of a drive, I decided I should go check them out. I found the store, took a look around, talked to a couple people and then asked about classes. (You have to take a class before you can rent time on a machine.) They didn't have any class times scheduled so they asked when I was available. Well, wow. So we set it up for this past Friday. There ended up being three of us in the class which was about right.

It's a three hour class and they teach you how to load your quilt parts onto the machine. (The top, back and batting are all loaded separately. They don't come together until you start quilting.) You use the machine to baste the parts together around the edges and then you sew so you can see how the machine feels.

These machines all have stitch regulators which means when you tell it you want 11 stitches per inch, that's what it does whether you move the machine fast or slow. The faster you move it, the faster the needle goes (up to 3,200 stitches per minute). If you move slowly, it will make stitches less often but all your stitches will be the same size. Really nice.

Here I am pulling up the bobbin thread before I start stitching so that it won't get knotted on the back:
Then, make sure your settings are right on the touchscreen:
Hit the button on the right handle and start to sew!
This is what I started with:
That's a bobbin sitting on the quilt surface. I had a couple
minutes to take a picture while waiting for them to fix
the machine.
Top left, a square spiral where I stitched to the center and then back out. Beside it I tried a round spiral. It looks a little squarish. I noticed the machine prefers to stitch straight side to side and straight forward and back so it's hard to get a nice curve. I tried a few more spirals and then my name which is what they recommend to get used to curves. (Everyone has very deep muscle memory of writing their name!) Then my thread broke.

I had a lot of trouble with the machine--actually two of them. You can see in the picture below that there were actually two machines set up on my table:
So when the one wasn't working right, they got me going on the other one! But then it started to have thread issues as well. I didn't lose too much time and I really got a lot of practice threading the machine and getting the stitching started! (Apparently the staff had been learning to make different adjustments on the machines earlier and not everything got set back how it should be.)

Once we had some time working on the machines from the front where we were looking at the quilt top, we moved to the back and worked with pantographs.
There's some table space at the back of the machine where you can lay out a long printed design and follow it with a laser light. As you look at the light and design and move the machine, it is stitching the pattern on the quilt while you're not looking!

By the end of the class, I had this sample of quilting (about the size of a crib quilt):
Here is a closer shot of the pantograph I did:
Can you see the horizontal rows of alternating roses and leaves?
I think the curves on my roses are still a little square but I could sense improvement even in this little bit of practice.

When I was done two passes of the pantograph design, I had 10 minutes left in class and a few more inches of the quilt so I tried some flame patterns (yuck) and some medium stipling (pretty good). I didn't like the smaller stiple stitch as much,
and then I decided to fill the last corner with a free hand elephant (can you see it?)
and some echo quilting around it (not great).

It was a really good experience! Now I have two free hours of rental time (included with the class fee) and I am trying to finish a quilt top as soon as possible to get back!!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

When Good Enough is Good Enough

Last time I showed my Cardinal Nine Patch it was hanging on the design wall, which turned out not to be big enough.
I took all the blocks down, more or less in order, and then took them all with me to my mom's when we went home for Christmas. After all the excitement and festivities, my sister and I had an afternoon to hang out at the church and use the large floor in their fellowship hall. My sister worked on cutting for one of her quilts while I worked on laying out this getting-to-be-overwhelming project.

First I laid out the blocks I had on the design wall (the far side of the photograph, on the floor near the table). Then I laid out the rest of the blocks. I started on the table, but of course that was not big enough and then laid them out on the floor. My niece helped with that and we put one in the center of each floor tile. Because OCD tendencies don't run in this family for nothing!

I then looked and looked and thought and hemmed and hawed and decided that I just had to start over. For one thing I didn't see how I was going to work all of those loose blocks into the existing layout. (There's a reason for that but I'll get to that in a minute.)

The second thing was that I had noticed that I had a lot more blocks on the light end of the spectrum than dark. So although I would prefer to have the quilt move from light in the center to dark on the outside, that didn't make sense if I had more light blocks.

So I started a new layout a few feet away with the darkest blocks in the center and worked out from there. I started with the orange tones in one quadrant. I shifted to yellow on one side and green on the other.
Each time I finished a section or got stuck, I pulled Kim from her cutting and we talk it through. It took a couple hours (really) but we ended up with something that mostly followed the light to dark pattern and the colour gradations I was thinking of.
We had to accept a lot of decisions that were "good enough" though. The blocks available weren't always in the colours we needed. I really did no planning as I sewed scraps together so this wasn't really a surprise. One thing I didn't think about was the decision to make nine patches instead of four patches or sixteen patches--this meant that block placement was constrained by whether it had five dark squares or four dark squares. If I had done four- or 16-patches, I could have put any block in any position. File that under "Live and Learn".

Since the whole idea was to make a scrappy quilt, none of this was a tragedy.

The big surprise after all my counting, figuring, and writing things down--I had left over blocks!! I didn't count them but in the neighbourhood of 12 to 20 leftover. This is after we decided to throw an extra row on the top and bottom just to make the quilt more rectangular. All I can say is it's better that it was too many instead of too few. (And now I have some starters for the next project!)

I found the last photograph a little hard to get a good view of the whole quilt, so I did some work in Photoshop to adjust the angle and proportions:
I think it's a little harder to see in the photograph than in real life, but the orange dominates the lower left. Green takes over the top left and shifts to blue in the upper right. I didn't really have enough purples, but they mix with the blues in the middle right and shift into some pinks as you move down. I had to mix in more greys in the purple and pink section so it's not quite as colourful as the other side where the oranges are.

The red doesn't anchor the quilt like I thought it would. Next time I would/will definitely stick with one tone of red (all mediums or all darks, for example) and let that be consistent while the rest of the colours change.

I converted the above picture to black and white to get a look at the contrast and tones:
It does generally move from dark in the center to light on the outside. You can really see the top row was added later as there are many more blocks with dark squares than the second row.

I don't think it is the most "successful" layout these blocks could make, but I was pretty happy with it at the time. I thought about redoing it to incorporate the blocks from the top and bottom rows better, but I think in this case good enough really is good enough.

I started to sew the blocks together, and so many of them still please me so much. I think I will really enjoy this quilt sitting over my lap or when I'm laying under it and can just see small bits of it. It's really not made to hang on a wall. So, yes, good enough is good enough.

It was good to have Kim helping me. First of all, she was the one to give me the push I needed to get out of my mom's comfie living room and go to the church to work on it. And she gives good advice that I often take, but she doesn't mind when I ignore it to do what I want on my own quilt! :)
Kim hamming it up.
As I said, I started to sew these blocks together. I have five or six columns sewn together. I thought I was doing well when sewing the first two columns together, to mind which direction the seams were going in so they can all interlock correctly. Well, I noticed I did well on all but the top row. So I need to remove those blocks, take them apart, and then sew them back together in the right orientation and then carry on. Yup, that's where the project is stalled. (My excuse is that the overhead light was disconnected while Troy was doing some electrical work.)

I expect I'll get back to it soon. I'm hoping this will be my first quilt on a long arm machine after my lesson on January 13. So I have to get it together and then figure out a backing. (Perhaps that's where my extra nine-patches will be used!)

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