Friday, February 10, 2017

You can have Boston and New York; I'll take a quilting marathon any day.

I had my quilt top and backing ready. I had my lesson on the long arm machine. I was ready (and eager) to get this quilt going. I'll be gone next week so I was also anxious to get it done before then. I didn't want that much time to pass between my lesson and applying the lesson. And of course, I was just excited to get quilting and didn't want to wait. :)

So Monday (almost two weeks ago now), I decided with two weeks before I went on vacation, I could afford the time to take a day off (and use up some of my comp hours that are burning a hole in my pocket). I called the quilt shop to see if any days were better than others to rent time or if some days were definitely out before I proposed a particular day to take off to my boss. I was very concerned that I may not get the whole thing done in one day, so I also asked what day could I get the maximum time in.

It turned out that Friday was out because they had a class, but some of them usually worked late one day and, even though the shop wasn't official open, I could continue quilting while they were there. That day turned out to be Tuesday. As in "tomorrow" when I was talking to them.

So long story short, I politely let my boss know that there was an opportunity at the quilt store I had to take advantage of the next day and I would be out. He took it gracefully. (He knows as well as I do how many hours he owes me, so what can he say?)

Tuesday dawns. I pack up the quilt top and backing into a suitcase and head to the store. I get there around 9:30. They gave me a lot of help setting up the quilt on the machine, basically walking me through all the steps again. I chose wool batting. (They sell it there--how convenient! Even better is that they pass on the wholesale price.)

Here it is loaded onto the machine. This is  after I've quilted quite a bit of it, but you get the idea of how it goes on.

The highest bar, in the back, is called the take up roller because it takes up the quilt after you are done quilting each section. The arm of the sewing machine runs over this one.

The lowest bar, at the front of the frame, is the quilt top roller. As you can see, it holds the part of the quilt top that you haven't quilted yet. You can use it to keep the right tension on the quilt top, although apparently some people quilt with the top not in tension at all. In that case, you can let it hang down, or roll it up to keep it out of the way, but not pull it tight.

Just above the quilt top roller is the payout roller. (The one with the red stick on it.) It's also called the belly bar because that's the one your belly is always hitting as you lean over. :) This is the roller that holds the section of quilt backing that hasn't been quilted yet. It also maintains the tension of that layer.

And in between these two layers lies the batting. It isn't held in tension at all and you can see that it is just hanging down. When you're just starting, there's a lot more batting which piles up on the floor and gets in the way. If you look closely, you can see some purple fabric hanging behind it. They call it a hammock and it is tied to both sides of the frame. You stuff the batting in there to keep it out of the way until you need it. Low tech, but effective.

Once we had it on the frame, we chose a thread colour. I knew I wanted red (what else?) but didn't want a bright take-control red. We ended up going with a dusty rose colour and it worked really well. It was not one of the colours that I could just buy what I needed (they charge by the size of the quilt--they don't actually measure what you use) so I ended up buying a whole cone. So now I have a lot of dusty rose thread to use.
I was pretty focused during the day so I didn't take a lot of progress pictures. I knew I would have to keep it moving to get it done. I did have some issues with the thread breaking which slowed me down. I was advised to quilt only from left to right and that stopped the breakage. But it meant that at the end of each pass across the quilt, I had to cut the thread and restart on the other side. On the plus side, your muscle memory is not the same moving in both directions so I think I got better a little faster because I was always going the same direction.

I love how much texture is added as soon as you do some quilting. I think you can see how the closer squares in this picture are flat, but the ones further back look like little hills.
It just brings the quilt alive. It's an exciting process. (Keeping in mind the context. It's also the tedious repetition of a thousand curved lines. :)

After the first couple times you've filled the area with quilting and rolled the quilt on the take up bar, you can see the design on the back of the quilt. This is from the front of the frame:
 Below, you can see a little more of the design from the back of the frame:
 Here is a quick peek under the quilt:
This was taken from the back of the frame. This is the part of the quilt that is lying flat ready to be quilted. (You can see the belly bar in the back (bottom of the picture).)

Then, 10 hours after I arrived, I had a quilt completely quilted:
This is Doug who stayed late. They told me he was working late anyway, but I didn't see him do much more than a couple phone calls, so I think he was essentially staying so I could finish. They were very gracious! But I think he was also glad that he got to see the whole quilt because he came in after I had it rolled up on the frame and he told me part way through the day that he couldn't wait to see how the colours moved across the whole quilt.

I thought ahead enough to pack a lunch and snacks. I knew they had water in a fridge there that I could purchase. I tried to take a break every two hours but honestly spent most of the time quilting. I was very determined to get it done. (I did do some yoga cat/cow in the bathroom at some point. That helped my back a lot!)

For most of the day, it was very uncertain that I would get it done, but after about half way things started clicking. I had many fewer thread breakages and just had to deal with the bobbin running out. (I went through 7 or 8 bobbins in the project.) I also got into a groove with the quilting and got faster. I think the first half took me until about 4:30 and I did the second half in the next three hours. (My best guess.)

As for the quilting, I certainly wouldn't be happy if someone charged me and I ended up with these results, but since I did it myself and it's my first one, I was certainly happy enough. Right from the beginning, it was obvious that the quilting wouldn't be "perfect". And apparently it didn't bother me because I caught myself almost laughing every time I did a wild curve or really missed the mark. (Like "ha ha...that was a good one!") And when you step back, you still get the idea of the pattern.

I'm looking forward to getting some of my other tops ready to quilt. I think they'll need a little more custom quilting than this one did and I'm going to make sure I have two days in a row available so I won't have to drive myself quite so hard!

As for this quilt, I need to find a place where I can trim the edges (it's a little overwhelming how big this thing really is) and then can apply the binding. I've got some crazy plans for that too...something I've never seen done before. (Oooh...the suspense!)

Bonus footage: Here is a short video of their bobbin winder, a truly slick little machine.
Once you get it started, it runs by itself and stops when the bobbin's full. You load the next bobbin, flip the arm down and it does it all again. If I'm not careful, it's going to make me think filling a bobbin on my sewing machine is quite dowdy!


  1. Christina, it looks fantastic! I've so enjoyed watching this quilt come together, and watching your progress on the long-arm. You inspire me! :)


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