Sunday, December 16, 2012

My Quilting Journey

A lot of people are surprised to learn that I quilt on a DSM (Domestic Sewing Machine) and not a long arm machine.  I think that's partially because they see that I do quilt really large quilts!  I though I would share my journey as a machine quilter and encourage those of you that are thinking of taking your first steps to go ahead and jump in!  The sooner you start learning the sooner you will master the skills you need to be a good machine quilter.

I started quilting back in the day.  Back in the day when we cut out our templates out of cereal boxes and hand drew around every stinking piece, then sewed them together (luckily machine piecing was quite acceptible then...)  As a teenager my mom and I pieced simple tops, layered them with two layers of fluffy poly batting and tied them with embroidery floss to make wonderful warm comforters.  I made a couple of similar quilts after being married, but when my children were born I ventured out into my first steps of machine quilting by finishing their "big girl" twin quilts using stitch in the ditch.  Without a walking foot!  Not so much fun, there was a lot of puckering and it took forever, but it made their quilts hold up better for the frequent washing a childs bed quilt requires.

My true journey in quilting I count as starting in 1986 when I was pregnant with my fourth child.  My friend Cheryl got me hooked into the world of quilting - oh the glorious fun of piecing intricate patterns and hand quilting them to be heirlooms!  I found a pattern in a Woman's Day magazine for a Double Irish Chain quilt with hearts appliqued in the centers and prairie point edges and decided THIS was going to be my first "real" quilt.  (Yes, I was brainwashed by the quilt police for a while, but I have recovered...)  I chose red and green fabrics for the chain, and a cute little calico with blue flowers for the background since we were hoping for a boy.  My color sense has also developed quite a bit since then! 

That quilt was lovingly stitched on my sewing machine (each 2 1/2 inch block cut by hand), then laboriously hand quilted over the course of the next several months.  It wasn't done for the birth of my daughter :) but I did finish it for her first Christmas three months later.  It was all stitched in a lap hoop, using two strands of regular sewing thread.  Stab stitched up and down because I hadn't learned to use a thimble or "rock" my needle yet.  A labor of love.  Not my best quilt, but my first and I was so proud of it! 

Continuing on, I took a class and learned how to use a rotary cutter and ruler - wow, now I could cut out those pieces so much faster!  Though I enjoyed the quilting, the piecing was truly my passion and though I worked on one or two projects at a time for a while, soon I was starting to accumulate tops faster than I could quilt them.  I hand quilted a queen size quilt for my bed, several twin size quilts and many wall hangings.  All the while piecing more and more tops, and accumulating lots of PIG's and WIP's (Projects in Grocery bags, Works In Progress).  Machine quilting started to become more and more acceptible and we all started rejecting the idea that a quilt wasn't a quilt unless it was done by hand. 

In 2002 I made a list of all the projects that I had in boxes, bags and piles.  I counted 28 tops of various sizes.  Then and there I determined that if I was going to continue to piece quilts by machine I was going to have to start quilting at least some of them by machine or be buried under tops in the next 10 years!  So, I picked a miniature quilt as my starting point, figuring that would be easy to handle.  I put the darning foot (never used before in all my years of sewing...) on the machine, and refering to the single book I could find on machine quilting attempted a stipple on that little quilt.  I used a clear poly thread and quilted the daylights out of that little quilt.  My stitches are awful - so inconsistent, there are points and cross overs.  It ended up being stiff as a board, but I did it!  From 5 or 6 feet away it looks awesome, and beginning quilters are always impressed at it because they don't see the faults - they see the small, tight quilting and love it!  I love it, too, because it started me on this marvelous journey!

I looked at my list found another quilt I wanted to get finished, and quilted it - it was better because it was a bigger quilt and I could make my shapes bigger.  I watched a video and figured out that I needed to go faster with my foot pedal and slow my hands down a bit.  I did another quilt and realized that the batting and thread made a difference.  I did another one and discovered I could add hearts to my stippling and it looked nice (though I did use a contact paper template because I was afraid to free hand the heart).  I quilted a flannel panel and traced the design.  It didn't come out perfect either, but I loved the effect and realized that no one else notices the imperfections.  

After quilting a queen size quilt on my Kenmore I realized that if I wanted to do large quilts, it was time for a new machine.  I thought about trying to purchase a Long-arm, but realized that if I did I would have to quilt for other people mostly to pay for it and that would take a lot of the fun out of my quilting. So I did some research and purchased a Juki TL98E for $700.00.  That was a huge price tag for a person that had never paid more than $200.00 for a machine in her life!  It was the best investment I could ever make - this machine has been a workhorse and I love it.

I started working at my local quilt shop, where the owner does long-arm quilting.  She exposed me to a whole new world of different shapes and quilting designs.  In 2005 DD4 graduated from high school and left home.  I gained a sewing room and some free time to do even more quilting.  I took a class from a professional quilter that used a DSM and learned to make up my own designs.  Well, by the time 2006 rolled around I no longer has such a big stash of tops and projects, but now I had a whole new problem.  I had such a pile of finished quilts that it was getting to be a I opened my Etsy shop!  Now I am happily making quilts for myself and my family along with shop samples, and selling the extra ones.  I'm fortunate to get to play with fabric to my hearts content, and love to keep learning and growing in the art of quilting. 

If you would like advice on free-motion quilting, feel free to ask me and I will answer, but I don't intend to go into great depths here on my blog.   Go to Leah Day's blog - The Free Motion Quilting Project.  She has detailed information, videos and tutorials on machine quiting that I could never even come close to recreating, and seriously - why should I when she has done it so well? 

I hope this helps encourage you to try some machine quilting.  You don't need a fancy machine or a lot of equipment.  You just need a darning (or free-motion) foot for your sewing machine and a little determination!  I started out on my dining room table, and you can as well.  My best advice is not to start out on that heirloom quilt that you've spent years working on.  Make a baby quilt, a charity quilt, or a wall-hanging for Christmas.  You probably won't love your first results, but you've got to make the mistakes to grow and learn.  Enjoy the process and try something new.  Feel free to go to my facebook page and show me a picture of your work - I'd love to see how you are progressing in your quilting journey

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