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  • Does Size Really Matter?

    As I am getting older, increasingly I am finding myself drawn to making smaller projects as opposed to large quilts. There are a few reasons for this.

    A main one is time. To make a large (twin sized or larger) quilt takes a lot of time. The shortest amount of time I’ve made one in is about 3 months start to finish (for a rather simple one) to as long as 2 1/2 years for the more artistic ones. This is not continuous time stream of course, I usually have quite a few projects running concurrently to fulfill obligations and other deadlines but the big art pieces take a lot of time and energy to make and somewhere in all this I have to make a living and pay the bills as well. Given that time allotment, I figure I would have another 20-25 years or so (if my hands and eyesight hold up) to make them and at about 1-2 years per quilt, that would only be another dozen quilts or so before I have to put my sewing machine out to pasture. On a list I keep of designs and concepts I really want to pursue, I have about 30 projects ‘ready to go’ – designs done, fabric purchased etc… not to mention even more sketches and ideas in progress. See just one spread open page from one of my design books below? I have about a dozen or more of these design books brimming with designs.

    Just two pages from one of many notebooks full of designs just waiting to be made into a quilted project or pattern.

    If I give myself permission to make the projects smaller, I will be able to realize more of them though never if I lived to 150 could I do them all not to mention I keep adding new designs all the time, I just can’t help it.

    The other reason for smaller project is the logistics of quilting them. I can quilt smaller projects on my domestic machine with ease, anything up to a throw size (about 60″ x 60″) is a piece of cake! Larger than that, I have to start making compromises between what I want to do vs. what I can do. Larger than a twin/full size and even those compromises go out the window. I don’t like surrendering an art quilt to a long-arm quilter to create the stitching, I can’t afford custom quilting jobs for all my art quilts and besides, I have experienced those last minute changes when in the middle of quilting, I decide the design I was considering just isn’t working out right. If I am the quilter, I can change horses in midstream and try something different rather than allow another person to make that call.

    Before suggesting that perhaps I should invest in a long-arm machine myself – A) I can’t afford one, B) I don’t have a room large enough in my home to house one (except for the living room and that isn’t happening) and C) the muscles and coordination to long-arm a quilt are different than tabletop quilting and I would have to quilt a lot of quilts before I was good enough to do as good  job as I can do on my domestic machines – there’s that time issue again. I do have friends who have long-arm machines who have invited me to use theirs but with a machine located in someone else’s home and doing the kind of custom quilting job I would want, I would have their machine tied up for days if not weeks  (plus I still would need to quilt a lot of less important quilts before tackling one of my art quilts).

    And so, small it is and I can stitch away on more manageable projects while reminding myself that good things come in small packages.

  • Quilt It Yourself!

    There are two attitudes to machine quilting your own quilts – one is “Oh dear… now I have to quilt it”; the other is “Oh boy… now I get to quilt it”. Which camp are you in? Many quilters throw up their hands in despair and simply hand their quilt tops over to a long-arm quilter to do for them. I am not disparaging having a professional quilt your quilt there are plenty of skilled and talented long-arm quilters out there who can do beautiful quilting jobs but if you are a prolific top maker, the dollars start adding up.

    My own ‘Cheater’ Trapunto

    It can cost a pretty penny to have your quilt top quilted and a good long-arm quilter deserves every penny, the question becomes ‘what can your pocketbook bear’? A simple allover design or pantagraph is the best bargain for a utilitarian quilt but a gorgeous quilt deserves gorgeous quilting. This is usually referred to as a ‘custom’ quilting job in the industry and now the dollar signs start to add up. Among my long-arm friends and acquaintances, a custom quilting job for a bed sized quilt starts at about $400 and goes up from there. By the time you get to the quilting stage, you have probably already invested anywhere from $250 – $400 in the materials if you are buying good quality fabric and adding a long-arm quilter’s fees can escalate the out-of-pocket cost of making a large quilt to $650 – $1000 and up; this does not include the hours and hours you put into making the quilt top (and non-quilters wonder why getting a custom made quilt so expensive, can you imagine going to a lawyer and paying only for the printing fees and paper to get you case handled?).

    Quilting: thread color contrasting fabric

    My preference is to quilt my projects myself whenever possible and there are a few good reasons to do this. My main reason is that I believe the quilting plays a crucial role in the artistry of the whole quilt and this is something I want to control myself (yeah – I know – so I’m a control freak). When you hire a long-arm quilter you can discuss your ideas and preferences with them and a talented long-arm quilter will usually have very good judgment about which stitching designs will enhance a quilt but it comes down to relinquishing that final decision to someone else. I try to consider my quilting designs carefully before stitching; better to approach this with caution than have to rip out stitches after the fact; but even with years of experience, I’ve had times when a little ways into the quilting I realized my best idea simply isn’t working as well as I envisioned and I have to stop, rip it out and reconsider my choice. This is not a decision I want to surrender to someone else who may have a different vision than I do.

    Shell Form – fabric painted with Seta-Color paint then quilted in various colors of thread

    Now – I will admit, there is a size threshold to consider. I can quilt anything up to a throw-sized quilt with relative ease; on a twin sized or larger quilt I might have to compromise what I want as a design with what I realistically think I could do on a domestic machine given space and maneuverability limitations. For a queen or king sized quilt, I would definitely consider having it done by a long-arm quilter. But, I love the quilting process; seeing to colors and textures of thread and design unfold and develop as I stitch; the quilting is the icing on the cake.

    My Aztec Sun Calendar quilt (hand quilted)

    So – which camp do you want to be in? Afraid to quilt your own quilt, or excited at the opportunity to do so? If you are the former, I teach a comprehensive class on Machine Quilting at various locations in Portland; here are some dates for up coming classes: Jan. 25 & Feb. 1 at Sharon’s Attic in Aloha, Jan. 31 at Montavilla Sewing Center in Gresham, Feb 17 & 24 at Ace Sew & Vac in Tigard, Feb. 29 & March 7 (and again on July 11 & 18 ) at Cedar Ridge Quilts in Oregon City, April 6 & 13 at Ace Sew & Vac in Newberg. These are all my full 2-session classes (see the class project below)

    Machine Quilting 101 Stitching Sampler

    I also have some 1-session and focus classes coming up: my ‘Free Motion Magic’ class on Jan. 31 (and then again on April 25) at Montavilla Sewing Center in Gresham; and a couple of ‘master’ classes at the Lake Oswego Montavilla Sewing Center . The master classes focus on specific quilting situations; ‘Pushing Borders’ (on February 25) and ‘Machine Quilting Textures’ (on April 15). See the various class samples below.

    Between the various dates and venues, I hope you can find a class that will accommodate your schedule and location.

    Detail of a block quilted in an Aztec theme

    And finally, I will be giving a program on the ‘Art & Craft of Quilting Your Quilt’ for the Metropolitan Patchwork Society in Beaverton on March 24 at 6:30 pm to be followed with a workshop – ‘Freestyle Quilted Medallions’ in which you will learn a variety of methods to create inspirational quilted medallion motifs (see examples below) on Saturday March 28. Contact the guild for more information.

  • Stitch Away the Gray Days

    OK, Christmas is past and in a few hours 2020 will be upon us and winter is just getting started up here in the Northwest. You may not want to be thinking of Christmas 2020 yet but what better time to begin some projects for next year’s yuletide? If you start now you will have a whole year to finish your projects. To that end, I am offering my Hand Embroidered Folk Art Ornament class at Sharon’s Attic in Aloha on Saturday January 11 from 10 am – 4 pm. This has been a popular class over the years and I keep adding critters to the menagerie. The best part of these hand embroidered whimsies is their portability; everything you need to make one will fit nicely in a Zip Lock bag and with a few stitches here and a few stitches there, you can finish one between other day to day tasks – on your lunch break, waiting for an appointment, watching a football game, bingeing Netflix…
    I have made quite a collection of these I could show you and you would say “Ah – but you are an experienced embroiderer…” so rather than show you my work, I would like to show you what has been done by my students. Keep in mind that many of these were made by stitchers who had little or no hand embroidery experience.
    Feeling inspired? Come join me at Sharon’s Attic in a couple of weeks and see what you can do.