On the Longarm today….Creating a Square and Flat Quilt Top

Builders use levels and plumb lines to keep houses ‘square’.  A house that is level and plumb is less likely to fall down.  Likewise a quilt which is flat and whose angles are intentional is more likely to survive washing, hanging on a wall or in a quilt show.  In every step of the quilt making process we introduce a chance of error.  I have learned through the years (by painful experience mostly) to reduce some of the errors.  My worst quilt ever was a lap quilt made from a brocade fabric, I pieced each block and then had to ease them to fit each other, then because I ‘knew’ that I pieced 12″ blocks, I calculated the ‘theoretical’ length of the borders and quilted it.  It had more waves than a surfer’s convention.

I took out the quilting, ripped off the borders, measured the quilt, reattached the borders, and quilted it.  It still was wavy–I took out the quilting, blocked the top, quilted it, blocked it and attached the binding.  It was as good as it was going to get.  My friends labeled it the ‘quilt from h***”.  I never wanted to see it again.

I have another quilt, a pleated log cabin with a heavily embellished border, hand appliqued with dimensional flowers.  It also does not lie flat, it hangs ‘pregnant’ (with the center bulging out).  I took out the quilting twice, measured and reattached the borders 3 times–it still does not hang straight.  I gave up, it is finished and resides in a very comfortable place in the closet.  Both of these quilts were finished several years ago and they inspired me to improve my technical skills so that I would not ever have to take out quilting stitches again.

Here are some techniques I learned to improve my accuracy:

  • Fabric matters:  The ‘gold’ standard for quilts is 100% Cotton fabric made for quilting.  Yes, you can quilt with fleece, silk, wool, fur, pleather, leather, satin, jersey, polyester, brocade….But if you choose another fabric choice you will have to change some of the techniques and perhaps add some steps in order to achieve accuracy.  For example, the brocade in the quilt above should have had a stabilizer, such as French Fuse or Shape Flex 101, fused onto it.  Then the fabric would not have stretched to create waves.  I also should have stay stitched with a walking foot around the quilt top before quilting it.  100% Quilting Cotton has  minimal stretch, creates a defined crease when pressed, and can be washed.
  • Double starch:  Before cutting cotton fabric I starch it, press it dry, starch it again, and press it dry again.  I use regular grocery store Niagara spray starch, if my grocery store gives me a choice, I purchase the heavy duty, professional, super-duper spray starch.  I don’t mind the smell, of the ordinary starch but I avoid any floral scented starches.  Most of my quilts are made to be used, washed and loved and the starch will be gone after the quilt gets it’s first ‘bath.’
  • Cut accurately:  Know where to place the lines of your ruler, use sharp blades in your rotary cutter, use accurate templates.  Make sure that the fabric is folded parallel to the selvages and only layer your fabric thick enough so that your rotary cutter will cut through it easily.
  • Use an accurate 1/4″ seam allowance:  Even if you have been using a machine ‘forever’ and you ‘know’ it has an accurate 1/4″ seam allowance, test it before starting a new project.  I sewed all day without realizing that somehow my needle position had been changed.  aargh!
  • Measure frequently:  Before putting on sashing or piecing blocks together, measure your blocks.  Fabric moves and small errors can add up quickly.  I measure and fix things as I go along.  It may slow me down, but I don’t have to ‘frog’ (rip it, rip it) as often.
    • Before putting on borders measure your quilt top 6 times in 6 different places.capture
      • Add the horizontal measurements together then divide by 3:  this is the horizontal measurement of the quilt (note:  If the measurements differ more than an inch, I would double check the measurements, then I would double check the construction of the top).
      • Add the vertical measurements together then divide by 3:  this is the vertical measurement of the quilt.  (see note above)
      • Use these measurements to determine the length of your border cuts of fabric.
  • Be a Quilt Engineer:  None of the above techniques would have helped my heavily embellished and appliqued pleated log cabin.  The combined weight of the pleated log cabin blocks sewn to a muslin foundation and the weight of the applique was too much for the borders.  I should have stabilized the borders with a heavy stabilizer.  I think that sometime in the future I might add a heavy stabilizer to the back of the quilt or frame it.

Every quilt has it’s own unique challenges, I problem solve through out each step of the process in order to get the results I want.  At the same time I leave myself open to creative opportunities.  Some times there are happy accidents along the way which require me to change my plan.  Lovelli Signature

 

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