Friday, June 27, 2008

Home quilting systems

I want to have a serious post for a brief moment so please bear with me. I own a Voyager 17 quilting machine and a Hinterberg Stretch frame. I love them both. I purchased them after researching machines and prices, options, etc. Since I am only quilting for myself, out of my newfound passion and since it's rare to "treat" myself to anything big, I purchased it. I have had this almost 9 months now. It's taken me a good 5 months to even get it set up and once up, I've only had the opportunity to play with it (maybe the better word is practice) for about 2 months on and off. Not nearly as often as I'd like.

I purchased this from Mindy ( who is a wonderfully helpful source of information. I am only sorry that at the time of purchase, she was moving her studio from MD to PA. I have, as of yet, been unable to attend the seminar for beginners on this machine. No matter, I had confidence that if I follow instructions and if I continue to reference the DVDs on this machine (also manufactured and produced by Mindy and her husband Lars and sold on her site), I would eventually get the hang of it. Truth be told, I think I'm too impatient or I've finally found an area where I'm so full of self-doubt I'm questioning myself.

Did that last statement sound odd? Let me explain. I believe there's a learning curve for everyone. I believe where there's a will there's a way. I am certain I will one day be a wonderfully talented quilter. I know that day is not today. I need to remind myself of my basketball playing days when I was in school. I was not the most talented player but I became a three-year varsity starter based solely on my passion for the game and my hard, hard work. This is no different. I need a coach. Mindy's DVDs are wonderful and they are great but in this instance for me (and I don't mean to say it's the same for everyone so if you are thinking of a mid-long arm purchase, please do more research based on your own personality), I've discovered there's no substitute for hands on learning. I need the coach to teach me how shoot the ball correctly. I need the coach to look at what I'm doing and explain where it can be better. I need the coach to explain what the heck she meant when she said don't make the side tension on the quilt too tight. What is too tight? What is too loose? -sigh-

Now that I've figured out I need the coach, I've found time is, once again, against me. I work full-time and have 3 kids. DH is working in another state right now. Kids and I are going to visit him for the next couple months and my sister will be staying in my home for the remainder of the summer. My V17 will be with her, unused and silent. No practice time for me. Since this thought depressed me, I realized I should just schedule myself for a class when I return and can get there. With high hopes, I check the schedule on her site but it won't work out this summer. It's too far to travel and I'm truly sad. I hope she schedules a beginners class soon for Sept. but I'll have to be patient again since she has nothing listed for the fall yet at all. I'll have to continue to bide my time and practice, when I can, on my own when I can get back to my Voyager.

Alas, my finished quilt tops will continue to multiply and with any hope, I'll have practiced enough to feel comfortable enough to create finished quilts on my machine in time for the Christmas gifts I'd like to give out (for my kids, is that too much to ask?) I pray I have enough patience to remember hard work and practice is the only way it will look the way I want and that it is not a matter of "just doing it".

Phew... thanks for the patience, this post was more for me than you. However, make no mistake about it, if I could get Mindy to come to my house at my convenience to give me a private lesson, I WOULD. But, real life isn't like that. She has a business to run and as any customer, I have to find a way to get to her if I want to learn in the class offered. And I will, don't you worry about that!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Quilting Challenges -part 2. The Beauty and the "Beast"; the NY Tornado

The challenge I previously wrote of is over. I did not receive the most votes as a Beauty but I did not win "dis"-honorable mention either. Some people actually voted for my quiltlet putting me somewhere in the middle of all entries for a job well done. I'm surprised but do appreciate their votes.

My accidental design looks a little more purposeful now and I need to let you all know, it has a name. My ugly fabric (the clouds in the background near the corners) has led to the creation of the "NY Tornado." What can I say? It looks like a tornado ripping apart a NY skyscraper to me.

My family, who's been a tremendous source of humor, encouragement and sarcasm throughout this challanged must be thanked at this time. I may have lost the desire to keep going if it weren't for the constant questions, "Is it done yet? Is it still ugly?" The answer now is, "Yes and yes." The final question, "what are you going to do with it?" led to a few ideas.

The first, my sister's dog needed a new pillow. Hmm, just didn't seem right for all the hard work.

Next, hang it above my sewing machine in my sewing room as my new "quilt of shame" to remind me how bad a buying whim for fabric really can get. No, dismissed. The NY Tornado is too small for the space and my other quilt of shame still has too many helpful reminders to take it down. Reminders like:

- BASTE when quilting.
- Binding should not have thread showing through it on the front!
- Squaring up doesn't mean quilt first then try to straighten edges later.
- SID really means stitching IN the ditch, not wavy lines around the ditch.
- Pulling the quilt through the machine results in puckers and uneven stitches.

(Yes, for those of you wondering, it really is that bad. At least color choice is okay but still, it servces me well to remember there is something to be said for following instructions.)

Back to the NY Tornado, another idea. Just leave it in someone's house. Aha! Now we are on to something! Hmm, leaving it where they can see it might just lead to their being able to hide it in my own suitcase when I go home (my family is a couple hours away from me.) If I hang it for them to find, that's a great joke but I don't yet have the heart to see my work just thrown out, no matter how ugly we all think it is.

Wait, let me back up here. We do still think it's ugly but this is a relative term. My sister, sister's friend, mother and father (the primary players in the term "we" being used throughout this post) all believe I did accomplish making something out of the ugly. It would not suit the taste of anyone we know, but that is half the fun of the final version of what I've decided to do with the NY Tornado. Amid cocktails (maybe too many?) at mom's and dad's, we decided the Tornado needed to touch down in as many homes as possible, especially in our family! Could we get it to V's dad in CA? Oh, that would be funny? And Aunt S, the look on her face when she sees this! How about J in FL? lol He might wonder what we've all been smoking and if we smuggled any in the NY Tornado for him.

Yes, the plan has been hatched and with everyone's good humor, will be a success. The NY Tornado is going on tour.

A thank you to the host of this challenge and the creator of the NY Beauty Block patterns available to us participants for use in this challenge. Challenge is the most appropriate word and despite my lackluster feelings about how the NY Tornado looks (fabric choice-wise), I'm thrilled with the final product.

Stay tuned for Part 3 to read how the NY Tornado may blow into your home next!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

"J" interrupts my project schedule

Has it really been 11 days since my last post? My goodness, a lot has happened. Hmm, I finished that "ugly challenge." Polls close today. I'm amazed to see the creativity of these women on the site. Everyone did a beautiful job working their ugly fabric in. In the meantime, my family and I came up with a fun way to share the ugly. More on that later, though, when I can dedicate an entire post to it. Today's entry is about my youngest son, "J."

I went to the store to pick up some fleece to back a quillow top. I created a quillow for my friend's dd for her first communion. It came out very nice and I was asked to forward a pattern. Since I made it up, I'll be posting a tutorial here when I've finished it. I would have that done already but I was delayed by J. He was at the store with me and asked me to make him a blanket so sweetly, I couldn't resist. We bought 10 fat quarters, 2 half yard cuts of fleece for the back (my family loves these fleece backed quilts I do for lap quilts!) and left the store with a plan. I did all the cutting and ironing, J helped with the sewing.

and he laid out his own pattern of blocks for front and back. He also helped tie the finished product. I think we make a good team. Check out the final version!

And yes, that's a bright hunter orange! How could I resist when he was so earnest in helping this entire project along?
Now, back to my scheduled projects!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Quilting challenges

Alright, let's talk about "quilting challenges." I belong to a few online quilt groups through Yahoo. Since I don't have the availability or desire to participate in an actual guild right now, these online groups are a wonderful place to connect to others more experienced and just learning the art of quilting and piecing.

Often, there are various block swaps and challenges posted for the group's entertainment and education. For many reasons, I've avoided all of these but recently, I chose to join in. The challenge: pick an ugly fabric from your stash and using a set of pre-chosen block designs, make it look beautiful in a 4-block quiltlet.

I decided this challenge was for me. I had an ugly fabric. I think I may have inhaled some glue accidentally somewhere at Joann's because I have no other explanation for why I purchased it.

Also, I knew this WOULD challenge me to take more risk in choosing coordinating fabrics and planning an overall design. It would also, as I've come to find out, teach me about the entire process of piecing from start to border. More about that later. Lastly, I knew this was my chance to practice paper-piecing and curved-piecing. Neither of which I've really ever had any success with before. So, I took a photo of my ugly fabric and joined.

It took me 3 weeks to figure out what other fabrics I could use. I tried many, I even enlisted my mother and friend to help. Kudos to mom, she was a trooper and thanks to my dad who bore with me and mom laying fabrics out on the living room floor and talking over his news channels to figure the best ones. I sewed the blocks all up, still believing this to be the ugliest thing I've ever created.

I sewed the four blocks together without sashing and HATED them. Since I had a couple errors in my curved piecing, I had to square the blocks up and in doing so, I ended up shaving off some of the paper- pieced triangles. When those blocks were combined together, it made for uneven seams and incomplete triangles. As inexperienced as I am, I knew I could not hide these with quilting. I had to figure something out. I took apart the 4 blocks.

I searched the internet for ideas beyond just straight vertical and horizontal inner sashes and saw blocks set at an angle. I don't yet know if this is "legal" in the challenge, but I adopted this idea and created long triangles to add to the sides of my blocks. It worked and started to give my blocks new dimension. I was beginning to have hope this wouldn't be so bad after all.

Okay, sewed up the newly built blocks into a quiltlet but something was wrong. When I drafted my quiltlet and reviewed the draft, my eye was drawn around the quilt by the design and colors. However, once sewn, my eye jumped from one place to another and the quiltlet coloer was all jumbled and confusing. After an evening staring at the quiltlet and my drafted version, I figured out what I did, the triangles were on the wrong sides of the blocks. I couldn't leave it that way so I took apart the quiltlet again, took the long triangles off the blocks, repositioned the triangles, resewed them and then resewed the blocks together. Finally, my quiltlet was taking shape and directed my eye like it was supposed to.

Still ugly, though. There's just no escaping that.

Okay, so next I "audition" a couple border ideas and decide a simple, solid color is the way to go. My, oh my, it makes a bunch of difference. This quiltlet is not looking quite as ugly.

Well, maybe I'm speaking too soon.

At this point, I've only got the quilting left and then the binding. One week to finish so I'm trying to get myself away from "pondering" and to start "doing." However, I felt compelled, after putting on the border, to post here and let you all know, if you are like me and cannot visualize a finished product but can only visualize a part at a time, then join small challenges like this. It doesn't necessarily change the process of doing one part, then deciding the next part based on what the first looks like and so on but it HAS taught me to expand my mental zone to ideas and colors I would normally overlook. It has also taught me that sometimes, when I only have a piece of the puzzle complete, it may not be as pretty as the finished product so I should keep going and not get discouraged.

I'll post photos later, once the challenge is complete and let you know if I won "dis"honorable mention for ugliest quiltlet. It was decided to add that to the challenge because while some folks are able to make their ugly fabric beautiful, some of us aren't. All I can say, though, is I'm proud I'm sticking with this and I am having fun through it all and that may even be because I can't make this stinker look pretty. -wink-

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Dbl Wed Ring - Part 3

IT WORKED! The prayer worked. Thank you Quilting Godesses!

After I last posted, I had yet another error while trying to piece the next rows together. I pinned the two all nice and proceeded to sewing, removing the pins as I went. I got to the end (mind you I'm working on a king size quilt top here) and found I ran out of bobbin thread about 12 inches in from starting edge. Needless to say, I had to go back and repin the entire row again.

Just as I starting thinking I should erase my previous prayer (I don't want others to try something I can't even say worked for me), I had an insight to my pinning. I realized my points weren't matching previously because I wasn't pinning correctly. I should have been pinning straight up and down at the seams that should match but instead pinned at an angle which then allowed the seams to pull apart. It was such a "duh" moment I had to call myself the idiot I was.

That meant, however, my running out of bobbin thread was actually a good thin b/c I had pinned incorrectly, then came and posted my prayer, then went to sew. The Quilting Godesses WERE listening and DID assist me. PHEW!

I was able to finish connecting the last two row sections and now, I have the top completely pieced. It's on to quilting it next but I still need to wait for my backing fabric to arrive from the store. A couple more days of rest and then I might say another variation of that prayer to ensure the quilting is smooth and without incident.

Cheers! :)

Monday, June 2, 2008

Dbl Wed Ring Quilt, continued.

I'm still working on the double wedding ring quilt. Currently, I'm attaching the rows at this point and have realized, it is my own fault things have continued to 'happen' to this quilt top. How, you might ask? Allow me to provide an example from the thoughts of your Sarcastic Quilter.

"Hmm, squares are all attached into rows, looking good. Rows of two sewn together. All left sides have stayed on the left during "stacking" of the rows. Good, good. Seems pressed in opposite directions for easy piecing of each 2-row to another 2-row section. Good, good. Time for a chocolate break."

A couple days later...

"Okay, time to finish this top. Must get quilting it this week so no excuse, finish piecing these rows together. Pin, pin, pin... check seams, pin, pin, OUCH, don't pin finger to quilt... okay, pin, pin.. crud, how did the seams get off that far?

-deep sigh- unpin, unpin, unpin

-sigh again- pin, check seam, pin, check seam, pin, check seam, pin... okay, I've got it now."

{pick quilt pieces off floor and take to machine, start sewing}

remove pin, sew, sew, slow down, sew, remove pin, slow down, remove pin, easy, relax, remove pin, stay straight, slow down... dang it, STOP!

-reset machine speed slower start again-

Okay, that's better, now you can breath, remove pin, sew, remove pin, sew, check seams, sew, sew, you've got the hang of it now. Cut thread, press seam... cool the corner points match, it looks nice."

And then, I think the worst possible thing I can think! "This isn't so hard, kinda easy once you got the speed thing down."

DUMMY, DUMMY, DUMMY! Immediately I try to take the thought back, like some second grader who just realized she gave up her most precious doll to the boy who loves to bury toys in the dirt. But no, it doesn't work that way. Once it's out there, it's out there and I have officially jinxed myself and this project, again.

Now don't scoff, I used to scoff but I have since learned, specifically through this one quilt, just how much worse it can get if you don't sacrifice to the Quilting Godesses all the power of ease or difficulty in your project. Really, don't you remember the split coffee, cereal, blocks blowing off the line into the dirt when trying to clean off said coffee, etc.? Had I simply thought, "not too bad, need to keep paying attention though." I might have been okay. But I didn't.

The next section of rows, barely any point matches despite pin matching points (or at least I thought I did). I ripped it out and tried again. Success on only a few. What to do? Well, if you are me, you throw in the towel on that one and move on. Pretend that imperfection really does give it the "homemade" look you intended for with the 1930's design and fabrics. Moving on, I've already discovered, is again easier thought than done and so I am here, on my blog, to plead my case to the Quilting Godesses and provide a warning to any fellow quilter who may happen upon this post.

'Oh Quilting Godesses, please take this post as a symbol of my remorse for getting over-confident. If you allow me to start matching my seams and points again, I promise to remain nervously vigilant in my sewing and pinning for the remainder of this quilt top and all my other quilts. Please grant me your wisdom and infuse me with any quilting talent you can lend.
Your grateful and now properly humbled, wanna-be-quilter.'

To those who have happened upon this post, take it from me, the single worse thing a person can do in quilting is to think or say, "this is easy." Keep those Godesses pleased in the knowledge that all parts of quilting are and remain challenging in some way to even the most accomplished of quilters, or you just may find those little pesky errors are increasing in quantity through out your project. If that has happened or does happen, stop and try the prayer above. It may just save that project!