Evaluating A Quilt–Looking at the Back

It’s important to look at the whole quilt.  This lovely pink and green appliqué quilt looks like it has some fabric toning and perhaps some wear.  However, if we turn it over we can see considerable water damage and stains:

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These stains are difficult, if not impossible, to remove and will affect the quilt’s value.  Frequently, condition issues, such as staining, holes, or wear, are easier to see on the back of a quilt.

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It is also easier to see the quilting on the back of the quilt–like the concentric circles and echo lines.  We can also see the quality of the quilting stitch, especially when the backing is a solid.

Have a quilty day!!

 

On the Longarm–Rail Fence

The rail fence block design is one of the first blocks many quilters learn to sew.  It is easy to cut (all of the pieces are the same), easy to sew (no matching corners or tricky bias edges) and it looks great!  I love the way that the quilter has arranged the blocks to look like a basket weave.  I love to help quilters finish their quilts.  I chose an allover (edge to edged) design with leaves and swirls which echoed the fabric design and gave the impression of vines growing on the fence.

Have a quilty day!!

On the Longarm–Tips for Making Flannel Quilts

The quilting group at my church received a donation of a gigantic box filled with plaid flannel triangles–all shapes, colors and designs.  We were overwhelmed.  However we started to sew the triangles into squares, trimmed them to several different uniform sizes and then sewed them together.  For some of us it was a challenge to work without a pattern, but I believe the quilts we produced will provide warmth to those who need it in during the winter months.

Here are some tips for dealing with flannel:

  1.  Clean out your machine regularly–flannel produces a lot of lint which can clog up the bobbin area.  Every time you change your bobbin, make sure to take a brush to clean out the bobbin case  according to your machine’s owner’s manual.
  2. If possible, pre-wash flannel.  Doing so will help make it less stretch-y, it will reduce lint, and there will be less fraying (because the fibers have shrunk).
  3. Flannel frays badly.  You might want to use a slightly larger seam allowance or finish the fabric edges with a stay stitch.  Before sending the quilt to your long arm quilter, stay stitch around the outer edge.
  4. Choose a design which is easy to sew–squares and rectangles are easiest.  Bias edges on pieces like the triangles are more challenging because they stretch.  Trimming to a uniform size after sewing ensures that blocks can be sewn together accurately.
  5. Blocks with lots of seam intersections should be avoided.  Flannel is thicker than quilting cotton, so it is more difficult to avoid bulky seam intersections.  Consider pressing seams open.  Quilting through bulky seam intersections threw the timing of my long arm off and resulted in several days of frustration as I readjusted it.  I am now well versed in the art of adjusting my needle bar height.
  6. Because flannel frays and stretches, allow extra border width so that the quilt can be trimmed square after quilting.

Although flannel can be challenging to work with, don’t despair.  Nothing feels better than a flannel quilt and a cup of hot chocolate on a day when the high temperature is -40°.  It’s hard to imagine in July, but we  know that ‘winter is coming.’

Have a quilty day!!

Crazy for Crazy Quilts!!!

In 1876 the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition showed Japanese ‘crazed’ pottery (cracked glaze) and asymmetrical design to the United States.  In addition, it demonstrated fine English Embroidery.  Soon the Godey’s Lady’s Book and other periodicals were encouraging their readers to make crazy quilts.  Most crazy quilts consist of irregular patches sewn onto a foundation (there is usually no batting, so, technically speaking, they are not a ‘quilt’).  The crazy quilts from the Victorian era (late 1800s) were made from silk, velvet, satin and ribbons.  They were embellished with paint, embroidery, beads and buttons.  Many included ‘cigar silks’ ribbons included as a premium with cigars and souvenir ribbons (perhaps from the fair, or cities).

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The above example has ribbons, embroidery motifs and a lacy edge.  Most crazy quilts were never intended to  be used on a bed, rather they were used as a decorative element in the living room.  The presence of a crazy quilt showed off the household’s wealth–the maker did not have to do housework so she had time to do ‘fancy’ work and she had scraps of expensive materials, e.g. silks, velvet’s, and ribbons.

s-l500-3Most crazy quilt embroidery is on the seams utilizing combinations of stitches, such as herringbone and fly stitch.  Motifs embroidered in the patches include flowers, birds, spider webs, and animals.  Many crazy quilts have fan blocks or spider web blocks.

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By the end of the 19th century, lady’s magazines were actively discouraging crazy quilts, decrying the waste of time involved in making them.

However, quilters continued making crazy quilts (albeit in smaller numbers).  Many crazy quilts made around the turn of the century were made from wool and cotton.

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Stitching became more utilitarian and the use of souvenir ribbons decreased.  Generally speaking the individual pieces were larger (although there are exceptions, such as the quilt above, ca. 1910).

Crazy quilts from the 1930’s and 1940’s show off the pastel color palette of the new aniline dyes although the embroidery continued to simplify.  s-l500

They were either constructed in blocks as above or sewn utilizing a sheet as the foundation.  It is not unusual to see a crazy quilt with fabrics from a large range of time periods because most of them were made with scraps.s-l500-6

I have even seen crazy quilts made with polyester double knit fabrics from the 1960’s and 1970’s, such as this example:il_fullxfull-1110677381_sa3o

Preserving crazy quilts from the 19th century can be difficult because many of the silks ‘shatter’ (disintegrate) over time due to the mordants (dye fixatives) used.  Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to stop the process.  Treat your crazy quilts gently, and shelter them from dust and light.

On my longarm today…5 reasons to go quilt shows

It’s fall here in the Upper Midwest, the trees are all turning magnificent colors and the weather is beginning to cool.  It is also quilt show season, before winter driving becomes an issue.  Here are my top five reasons to go to quilt shows:

  1. To see amazing quilts, such as this stunning Best of Show, AQS Des Moines 2016 (plus many additional ribbons) quilt by Bethanne Nemesh.  It is a whole cloth quilt with an Art Deco inspired peacock design as it’s central motif and beautiful feathers.  The quality of the machine quilting was excellent.  I particularly noticed that despite the heavy quilting the motifs stood out from the back fill.  In addition she used ‘advanced’ edging techniques such as covered beaded piping and tiny scalloped edging.20161005_110535
  2. To discover new gadgets, such as how my Gammill Dealer attaches a tablet to her longarm.20161005_113636
  3. To get inspiration and ideas for my own quilting projects–how to fill up negative space.  I liked how Judy Mercer Tescher used block design along with back fills to complete the stars in her quilt Stars and Sparks.  20161005_112750
  4. To take classes–I took a class with Judy Woodworth, an amazing quilter, about back fills.  I can hardly wait to try some ideas and practice in my studio.  I won the class demo with Judy’s stitching.  I love those little feather blooms.20161018_165018
  5. To meet old friends and new friends.  I always have fun going through a show with friends because they see things I don’t notice.  It’s also fun to meet new friends–sit at a table with someone or on a chair next to someone and ask about their quilts.

I hope you enjoy some quilt shows this fall!!

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