Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tools and hints

Yesterday I introduced you to Donita Reeve, a quilter whose expertise in tools is laudable.  This handy tool is called the Accuguide, which Donita developed in order to have something other than her fingers to guide the hopping foot of her longarm.  Anyone who has gotten close to a hopping foot in motion understands all too well the possibility of sewing one's finger into the quilt, and this 1/4" thick plexiglass tool helps to prevent that.

Donita says that it can be used to stitch in the ditch around applique or curved shapes, to echo applique, to follow a stencil or to stitch in the ditch along a straight line for short distances.  I tried it out today.

Chances are my technique leaves alot to be desired, but I found the Accuguide to be easy and comfortable to use.  More familiarity with it should produce smooth and pleasing results even though mine were a bit choppy this first time.

As long as I have already displayed the most recent quilt on my frame, let me talk to you a bit about choosing what you want to achieve when you quilt something.  For instance, the quilt above is chock full of batiks, red, white and blue.  It is a Quilt of Valor and will go to a wounded soldier soon.  The piecing is lovely and smooth and well pressed, and the quilt is square.  But the fabric is so busy that any longarm quilting, no matter how fancy, will disappear.

Sue B usually sends me her QOV's and says to "make them sing."  I love to do the unexpected with these quilts, adding lots of custom designs to them to delight the soldiers as well as to pay homage to the tireless people who make these, month after month, by bringing them to life with my designs out of respect for their work.  But this quilt received a pantograph instead, because NOT EVERY QUILT NEEDS FANCY QUILTING.  In this case, pretty much any design would have been lost in the intricate patterns of the fabrics.

I chose a pantograph called "Star Swirl", a capricious blend of wonky stars and fluffy echoes that look like clouds.  The only place you can see this pattern well is in the border, but it's going to be a nice quilt for someone nonetheless.

Lesson three today:  adhesives.  Have you ever seen 404 Adhesive and 505 Adhesive and wondered what the difference was?  Well, I'm going to tell you.  The 404 Adhesive is permanent, so when you spray it on a paper stencil or pattern, it leaves a residue on the paper, but NOT the fabric.  The 505 Adhesive is temporary.  It leaves a residue on the paper AND the fabric.  So, if you want to stick a velum stencil or drawing or whatever on your quilt and quilt through that or around it, make sure you use the 404, because eventually you will have to quilt through all that gunk that's left behind on the fabric if you use the 505, not to mention trying to get it off the quilt when you are finished.  I have used 505 successfully  when making sweatshirt jackets, however, and can thoroughly recommend it for those kinds of projects.

Tomorrow I'll show you a neat trick for keeping the unused sides of the leaders from dangling and folding up in between the two front bars when you're advancing the fabric on the longarm.

Friday, April 22, 2011

An old dog's new tricks

MQX is a marvelous machine quilters exposition that emphasizes the quilting in a quilt more than the piecing of it, and as such, brings to the public examples of some of the most detailed and finest quilting I have ever seen.

As a professional long arm quilter, I understand fully the amount of time, dedication and expertise that this intense quilting takes,  and I thought you would enjoy seeing some of the quilts in my blog today.

Isn't this work truly magnificent?!  Can you imagine the time and the creativity it takes to do all these tiny stitches?  Even with the evolution of machine quilting into computerized robotics, you just can't imagine all the innovative approaches that can be seen in this show's quilts.

This year I had the pleasure of attending MQX East from April 12 - 16 with my quilting buddy, Mary It was held in Providence, RI, and since Mary hails from Newport, we spent several hours exploring her old hometown before actually going to Providence.  The day was grey and cold and blustery, but I could imagine Newport's history as I stood on a windy hill over looking the ocean and felt the longing of a ship's captain's wife for her husband's safe return.  The seashore is dotted with several beaches and occasional rocky promontories that afford the perfect vantage point for searching the horizon for that elusive ship.  Scattered along the shore, there are also the summer mansions of the unspeakably wealthy from back in the 20's and 30's, one of which was the location for the filming of the movie The Great Gatsby.

Too soon we headed for Providence to check into the Westin, which joins the Convention Center, where the exposition and classes were being held.  Lots of excited bustle by other quilters at the front desk increased our expectations of a full and fact-filled week.

This remarkable tool was introduced to me by Donita Reeve, who taught a class called "Gadgets and Gizmos."  Today I will discuss just one of the gadgets, since it can be used by both quilter and piecer.  It's called the Proportional Scale, and it is invaluable in determining the percentage of increase or decrease you need in the existing size of a pattern without having to resort to mathematics at home.

If you click on the above picture, you will see a magnified representation of this scaling wheel.  On the inside is the size of the block or pattern or piece that you want to change.  On the outside of the wheel is the size you would like to have instead.  In the above example, I have a 10" block, and I want to change it to a 12" one.  If you look in the little window below the numbers, you will see that this corresponds to a change of 120%.  Before computerized quilting, paper pantographs were followed with a laser or stylus to create the patterns across the quilt.  If you wanted Kinko's, for instance, to increase the size from 10" high to 12" high, you could figure out instantly with this wheel that you needed them to increase it by 120%. 

Likewise, using the same example, if that block was made up of  little squares that were 2 1/2" finished size, you could see that you would need to cut squares that were 3" finished (3 1/2" unfinished) in order to achieve the same relationship in the pattern.

I will leave you with another tidbit from Donita:  gassing a thread is a procedure during which the long staple cotton thread is passed through a flame to burn off the little slubs (wisps of cotton) that cause so much fuzzy residue in many cotton threads, clogging our needles and bobbins.  She spoke of Wonderfil, a long staple cotton thread that has been gassed twice, making it pretty much fuzz free and very strong.  So I bought some.

Luscious colors, and variegated, too!  I'll be trying them out over the weekend on some quilts I just received in the mail, and I'll let you know if they live up to their reputation.

Donita had other handy tools to demonstrate, but I will show those tomorrow since they are for use on the long arm machine.  In future blogs, I will talk about Crystal Smythe, who gave several very informative classes on the IntelliQuilter.