Giving Back

It is no secret that one of my deepest desires is to make a difference in the world around me. Since I was a small girl, I have been working with fiber, and hoping I could use the product of my labor to bless someone.  I have given countless hand crafted items as gifts, from crudely woven scarves, to intricate counted cross stitch creations, and of course, more than a few quilts.   I often pray over my creations as I am making them in an effort to leave a lasting blessing for the person I will give them to.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to use my gift of doodling over quilts to help others create heirlooms with which to bless their families.  I do believe that these fiber masterpieces make a difference, they bring joy and a feeling of being loved to their recipients, not to mention physical warmth.

Many quilts I have quilted have been intended for charitable donations.  If I know this ahead of time, I am happy to give a discount on the quilting price in order to contribute to the charity as well.  I have been so grateful for the opportunity to do what I love and be able to contribute to my family’s finances, that I am glad to use my gifts to support my community.

One of the organizations I have supported informally through quilting is “Quilts of Valor.”  This organization has a mission that is near and dear to my heart:

to cover service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor.

I am a granddaughter of a WWII veteran, whose father served during Vietnam.  I am also a wife of a reservist who has volunteered for two overseas deployments since 2011.  I can relate to some of the sacrifices our service men and women have made.  Although I know that the simple gift of a quilt cannot undo some of the wounds of war, it is my sincere hope that feeling the love that has been poured into the creation of these quilts can bring some healing.

This is why I have taken the required steps to become aQOVwlogo2  registered “QOV Longarmer.”  This means that once a month, I am able to “give back” to someone who has fought for my freedom by quilting a top that has been made for them.  I recently completed my first Quilt of Valor through the organization.  Unfortunately, I only thought to take a “before” picture,  next time I will take an “after” shot.  This quilt was made from several red white and blue fabrics, and I added an allover quilting pattern of stars and waves.  I have sent it back to the quilt-maker, who will bind it and deliver it to its intended recipient.  I hope that he or she will treasure the gift a team of grateful quilters have created in their honor.   I am looking forward to receiving quilt #2 this week.  I’ll post photos on social media, so you can see how it turns out.  🙂

If you are interested in  learning more about the Quilts of Valor organization, check out their website, which can be found here.   If you would like to donate a quilt to QOV, and have it returned to you more quickly than the organization can accommodate you by having it quilted by Town and Country Quilter, we are currently happy to do so at 50% of the normal quilting charge.

I hope you are inspired to “give back” in 2016, I’d love to read comments of all the ways my quilting friends are making a difference!

Something New in Every Block

A couple of months ago, I was asked to add custom quilting to a quilt top that my friend Janet had made.  I have known Janet for a while now, and she is known for being a great teacher and art quilter, so I  was excited to see what she had to bring me.   The quilt top did not disappoint!  It was made from a gorgeous collection of Batik fabrics, in all the colors of the rainbow…what a treat for a dreary March day in the last weeks of the longest winter EVER!

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As always, I asked Janet how she would like to have her quilt top quilted.  She presented me with some block designs in a pattern book.  She knew she wanted each block to have the same design quilted into it, but she left the design choice up to me.  After considering the overall tone of the quilt, and which motif might compliment it best, I chose and enlarged the design to fit the block.  (I just use my copier to enlarge, using the good ole trial and error method)

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I wish I would’ve been able to get a better photo of the block design…this was the best one I could come up with.

Janet and I both liked the “wrought iron fence” motif for the sashing, and we decided that whatever design we chose for the borders would blend in and went with an overall pattern.

Another element of quilting I discuss with each client is density. Some quiltmakers prefer light quilting, while others prefer a lot of background quilting to set off the block designs as in this quilt:

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Since this quilt was a gift, and Janet wasn’t sure what the recipient’s plans were, we settled on simple block quilting, without a lot of fussy background quilting.

One of the best things about my job is discovering the intricacies of each quilt as I am quilting it. Some quilts are pretty straight forward, having little variation in block design, color or value. Others are like treasure hunts, full of twists and turns, and delightful surprises.

The first portion of this quilt to be quilted was the border. The block designs themselves are quilted from behind the machine, following the motif with a laser light. Therefore, it wasn’t until I did the quilting in the sashing that I found out how complex this quilt was. Each block was made of the same shapes, but they were all different. The pattern (Confetti in the Corner, by Atkinson Designs) had provided building blocks that could be interchanged, and Janet had used color and value to ensure that each block was unique.

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I loved discovering the idiosyncrasies of each block! That’s one of the things I have always enjoyed about making quilts, the freedom to create a unique work of art even while following a pattern…the world is wide open to the quilt-maker through the use of placement, color and value.

The finished product is quite beautiful…even Mabel approves:

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Have you ever pieced a quilt that gave you design opportunities like this? If so, I’d love to see a photo!

 

2015: The year of the Unfinished Quilt

Today’s quilt that I am working on has inspired me to share something that has been on my mind for a while.   My friend Betsy brought it to me a couple of weeks ago in response to a sale I was having.  It is a beautiful, hand pieced Amish quilt.  The black background sets off the jewel tone solids wonderfully, and it will be a treasure for generations.  The only trouble with this “quilt” was that it hadn’t been quilted!  In twenty-five years!!!  I am thrilled to be able to help this quilt come out of the closet and become a family heirloom…as I like to say:  “A quilt isn’t a quilt until it’s quilted!”

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As alluded to in a previous post, I have been feeling the weight of my many unfinished projects, and seeking inspiration to tackle them for some time now.  I think Betsy was the second client that week to admit to having a project that hadn’t seen the light of day in that long.  Although I haven’t been quilting for 25 years, I do have the dubious distinction to have that many unfinished projects!

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Sometime in January, after I recovered from the holidays, I decided I would seek out all of my quilting projects, and start the process of at least deciding which ones were worth keeping.  It’s hard for me to think about discarding any of these extensions of myself, but I think I found one or two to pass on to a better home.  The resulting pile of projects was nothing to scoff at:

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I included quilts that I had offered to finish for friends, and a couple of antique quilt tops that I purchased with the intention to quilt and offer for sale.   I did not include any projects that don’t fall under the category of “quilt.”  Let’s face it, if I thought about finishing every cross-stitch project, and partially knitted something I would probably be too overwhelmed to even begin.    Nor did I include the way too many kits or projects in which no fabric has been cut.  Perhaps I will talk about that pile later!  I then proceeded to document them, with some notes on what was left to be done (quilting, binding, applique, peicing).  I then used rough estimates to determine how long I thought each project would take.
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As a long time fan and follower of Dave Ramsey’s financial principles, I am intimately familiar with the debt snowball principle.  Basically,  much effort is focused on the smaller debt until it’s paid, and then applied to the next smallest, and so on.  This is a great way to have some success early on in what seems to be an insurmountable project.   Although I don’t have a great deal of time to commit to my unfinished quilts, a little bit of time every day can sure add up.

 

And so, I sorted these projects from least to greatest…in terms of time needed to complete them.  Some projects went to the bottom of the list simply because I didn’t really like them, and so would probably waste time procrastinating due to lack of motivation.  I then re-packed them…in reverse order leaving out a couple of them to work on as I have time.

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The simple act of gathering my projects together and devising a game plan was somewhat cathartic for me.  Even though I hadn’t made any progress, the fact that they were at least known and organized helped to ease some of the buzzing in my head.  I don’t know about you, but for me loose-ends are somewhat energy draining.

The next step was to decide on a plan.  I had thought that I would commit 15 minutes per day to these projects, make great progress, and declare 2015 the year of the FINISHED project.  Upon closer inspection of my schedule, and life in general, which is full of must-do’s and deadlines, I decided to give myself a little grace.

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These projects weren’t begun out of compulsion, they were chosen to give me pleasure in the process.  I didn’t take up quilting as a hobby so I could be stressed out, why would I put that much pressure on myself?

My new plan is to be in the practice of progress.  I’m not going to deadline myself into completing rushed through quilts.  I am also not going to bury my head in the sand, and pretend they don’t need attention.  My soul is fed by the act of creating, my ultra-busy life needs some periods of rest.  My sewing room calls out to be occupied.  I will be mindful of these truths.  I will begin with the small projects, and perhaps find a reason to begin something new.  Life is full of unexpected surprises…many of which can be celebrated, or soothed by a handmade gift of love.  I will dedicate 2015 to pulling my treasures out of the closet, and breathing new life into them…and maybe 2016 too.

My hope is that by sharing this with you, you will be inspired to get out your family heirloom.  If it needs to have borders applied, give it some borders, if it needs to be quilted, either get out your hoop, or give me a call (I’d love to help!).  If you don’t have a pile of unfinished quilts, I hope you remember the joy you used to feel in the quiltmaking process…and perhaps start a new quilt!

So…I’ll admit…My name is Tara, and I have 25 unfinished quilts in my possession?  How many do you have?

Thing #1…How to properly apply borders to a quilt…

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I don’t know about you, but when I’m working on a project…especially a large, time intensive one, sometimes I get so excited to get it done that I hurry up to get to the end.  Sometimes this means working on it more frequently, and sometimes it means not taking enough time to do things RIGHT.  

Unfortunately, when it comes to quilt-making, that last step before sending your top to the quilter can have a huge effect on how your quilt turns out!  Rushing through it, or simply not knowing the best method can cause all sorts of problems.  Wavy borders are a long-armer’s most dreaded adversary.  I want so much to enhance a quilt with stitching, and sometimes when there is excess fabric in the borders, the quilting seems to highlight the problem, making it seem even worse!  I try to notice this problem when I am measuring a quilt, but sometimes it isn’t obvious until the quilt gets on the machine…often times I will call a client whose borders are a tad out of shape, and she will say something like “just quilt it anyway”.  Sometimes the quilting does help to take up some of the fullness, but other times I have no choice but to create a few tucks, and drive over them.

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Wavy borders could be improved, or avoided altogether if a few steps were taken as the borders were applied.  I have to admit, I didn’t make this method up myself.  It has been gleaned from several quilting books, and patterns.  Many patterns leave out the step by step process, so I will share the process I use with you.

Step #1  Square up your quilt.  Like squaring up blocks, squaring the top is an often overlooked, but valuable step.  It’s pretty simple, especially if you are relatively accurate when piecing.  Just fold your quilt in half, and in half again.  Using a large square ruler, trim the corners so they are nice and square:

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Step #2:  Before you unfold your quilt all the way, take the measurement across the quilt at the halfway point.  With your quilt folded in half, use your cutting mat to measure the width of your quilt at the fold.  I have heard some teachers say to measure it at several points and take the average of these, but as I said before…when I’m almost done…I get a little too hasty to spend too much time on one task.  This one measurement has always worked well for me, but if you’d like to try multiple measurements and take the average, be my guest.  Make sure you write down this measurement!
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Step #3:  The measurement you took in step #2 is a good representation of what your quilt width should be.  That is what the edges would be without any error, or stretching of bias.  This is the length you should cut your borders for the top and bottom of your quilt.  If my border strips aren’t long enough, I usually piece them together using a diagonal seam.

 

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(sorry about the wrinkles!)

Step #4:  This is the key to wavy border prevention.  At this point you have a quilt top and borders that are “made for each other” although the edges of your quilt may not be an exact fit.  The trick is, to ease any fullness you may have and spread that fullness across the width of your quilt.  In order to do this you need to match up the borders and sides at corresponding intervals. Take each piece (border and top of quilt) and fold it twice.  Each fold will represent 1/4 of the width of your quilt.  Either press or pin to mark your top and border. They are not easy to see, but the border strip in the following photo has 3 pins, one at the center, and one at each halfway point between the center and the end.  Make sure to place corresponding pins on the top and bottom of your quilt as well as each of the border pieces.

 

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Step #5:  We’re getting closer!  Next, lay out the border strip on top of the quilt (right sides together) and pin these pieces together, matching the center and 1/4 points that are pinned.  Once those points are pinned, you may add a few pins between them being sure to evenly distribute any fullness you may have.

 

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Step #6:  Time to sew on the borders!   Using a 1/4″ seam, and keeping your border on top, sew the border onto the body of the quilt.  If there is any fullness, either on the border or the quilt top be sure to ease it between the pins.  One way to do this is by holding the layers taught as you sew which stretches the shorter item a bit, you may also use a stiletto for equally distributing the fabric.

 

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The source of wavy borders is then caught in this seam, and  your quilt should turn out square and relatively flat.  Once both top and bottom borders are sewn on, it’s time to press.

Step #7:  I usually press so that the seam is toward the border fabric.  I don’t think it really matters much, but since I was always taught to press on the top of the piece, this works out better for me.    Lay the quilt on your pressing surface, border side up, and use tip of your iron to get into the seam and press it flat…pushing away from you.

 

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Step #8:  Now that you have applied the top and bottom borders, you can repeat the process from step #2, including your new borders in your measurement for the side borders.  Your quilt is now ready to be basted and quilted…or sent to your favorite professional long-arm quilt artist!

 

Please keep in mind, that accuracy when piecing will also go a long way toward contributing to a flat quilt without tucks or waves.  No quilt is perfect, but if your quilt top has a great deal of fullness due to inaccurate piecing, sewing the borders on correctly will not fix the problem. Due to bias pieces on the edge, or the piecing process, edges of quilt tops are frequently longer than the body of the quilt should be.  This method is meant to ease that discrepancy.

I hope this last tip was helpful.  What about you, do you have any tips you’d like to share?

Thing #2 The Town and Country Process…

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So, you’ve decided to hire a professional to quilt that top you just finished piecing…what’s next?

Before I fill you in on the way things work around here, let me share something. I am a quilt-maker too. I understand how much time and attention has gone into a quilt before I see it. I know that a lot of us would like to be able to be hands on in every aspect of a quilt’s completion. I know how precious it is to the one who made it. I consider it a privilege to be included in the process, and am grateful to be able to provide the opportunity for quilt-makers to move on to their next project.

The first step in the process is to call, or email our studio to set up an appointment to drop off or send your quilt. If you know of an upcoming deadline for a quilt and wish to add your quilt to our schedule in advance, you may.

When you and your quilt, or just your quilt, arrive at the studio, it will be measured and invoiced. We will then have a conversation, in person, or by phone, in an effort to solidify the vision of the finished product. Custom vs. Allover quilting will be determined, as well as which patterns, the density of the quilting, color of thread, centeredness of the backing, type of batting, and cost will all be determined and communicated. This may be a short “do whatever” conversation, or we may spend quite a bit of time. The goal of this meeting is to make sure that we understand what you want your finished product to look like. We will also advise you if we foresee any potential problems with quilting your quilt. If the borders have fullness, or blocks aren’t square, this can sometimes make it impossible to quilt the quilt without puckers, or fullness between quilting lines, we will do our best to detect these issues before we proceed, although not all fullness is evident before the quilt is loaded on the machine. You will be informed what week your quilt is scheduled to be completed, and given a quote and date due notice. At this point it will also be determined who will be quilting your quilt. At the time of writing, there are two quilt artists working at the studio: Myself, and Anna.

 

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Anna is proficient at many allover patterns, and her repertoire is growing steadily. You will help determine who’s schedule you are on at this time.

When you leave your quilt with us, it is hung on a hanger, and stored in the closet of our smoke free studio. The quilts are hung in the order in which they will be quilted, and stored there until it is their turn to be loaded on the machine. Quilts can be completed in as little as 2 hours, or as much as 12-15 hours. We try to complete 2-5 quilts per week, depending on their size and complexity of pattern. Our turn-around time varies based on workload and time of year.
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After the quilting is completed, your quilt will be taken off the machine and the backing and batting will be trimmed to about one inch beyond the quilt top. We will then give you a call and arrange pick up or delivery.

If you pick up your quilt in the studio, you will have a chance to look it over and address any concerns you may have, if there are no concerns, payment is due at this time. It is our sincere hope that if you have concerns either in the studio, or after you get your quilt home, you will contact us. If there is a problem that we can remedy, we will take measures to do so. We care about your quilt, and we want the best outcome possible. There have been occasions that the quilt-maker’s vision for her quilt was not reached after quilting. I have been thankful for a few opportunities to “re-do” the quilting, and I am happy to say that these ladies were pleased with the end result and have remained clients of ours.

That’s it.  All that’s left is for you to take your quilt home, bind it (if you haven’t hired us to do so) and enjoy!

What do you think?  Do you feel more comfortable having your quilt professionally finished now that you know the process? Feel free to contact us for your next quilting job!

Thing #3 Some thoughts on Batting…

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I hesitated to add this topic to my list, due to the fact that I am not well versed on the wide variety of brands of batting on the market, but since batting is in integral part of each quilt, I thought I’d share a few opinions.  Basically, I am a simple kind of girl, and if it works…I don’t fix it.  This is why I only stock two types of batting, Hobb’s Heirloom Natural, which I have used since I began quilting, and Quilter’s Dream Cotton in White – Select Loft.  On rare occasion, I have ordered a different batting for a client (for instance a black batting for a mainly black quilt), but by and large, most of the quilts that I work on include one of these two battings.

I order both of these options on a roll, so I generally have plenty in stock.  I charge retail price, by the linear inch.  This is a good option for most quilters in that there is little waste, and they only pay for what they need for the quilt.  This is a good option for me in that storing the batting on the rolls keeps them relatively wrinkle free.

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The fewer wrinkles a piece of batting has, the better  it behaves on the machine’s frame.   As I progress on the quilt, and the batting is caught between the layers, it is sometimes difficult to detect and remove wrinkles.  Sometimes this happens as the batting gets caught on the seams, and I have found that both of these brands of batting are stable enough to “take a tug” if I can’t reach the wrinkle from the side of the quilt.

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Although both of these brands are of high quality, there are a few differences, which is why I keep them both on hand.   The reason I started stocking the Quilter’s Dream batting is because some of my clients preferred it’s slightly thinner loft, and thought it had a better drape than the Hobb’s.  I have always appreciated the fact that the Hobb’s didn’t shrink when I washed my children’s quilts.  Although thinner, the Dream Cotton is definitely heavier (you should try dragging a 30 yard roll from the front door to the quilt studio!)  Neither of them has shown itself to have a problem with fiber migration between quilting lines, or pilling on the outside of the quilt.  I also usually recommend the Quilter’s Dream cotton for quilts with a very light background, due to the fact that it is white in color and won’t dull the look.

All in all, I have been pretty content to offer these two types of batting for my clients. Sometimes, quilt-makers prefer to bring their own batting, which I am happy to accommodate. I can also special order batting to achieve the loft, or drape a client is looking for. Do you have a favorite batting? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments.

 

Life Stuff and Future Plans

If you are a follower of this blog, you may have noticed that it got off to a good start, then took a nosedive in the second half of 2014!   There were many times that I thought about sharing ‘life stuff’ with you in explanation of this, but didn’t really want to publicize at the time.

You see, I had big plans for last year…  I was going to start a blog, increase profit, help more people finish their quilts, hire and train an apprentice, advertise in a national magazine, etc.  I even thought about sharing with you all as I tackled my unfinished quilts!  All of them!

I’m not sure why I had all these lofty ideas of what I could do with my time…must have been DENIAL!!

The truth is, that last January, I knew that I would be embarking on a new role for the second half of the year:  single mother.

In late June, after hosting 100 of our friends to say farewell…my kids and I said “see you soon” to my newly activated normally reservist husband.

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It was the culmination of many months of “preparing” for a deployment to Afghanistan. We had made the decision the previous year, that Cliff would join a group of airmen from his base to contribute to Operation Enduring Freedom. As a former active duty member, and long time reservist, we both felt it was our turn to serve in this way. We were sad to see him go, but happy to serve our great nation.

What I didn’t know at that time was that I would then enter survival mode. Summers have traditionally been a bit of a juggling act, with 3 active kids at home and quilts needing to be attended to. I normally adjust my hours so that I can get some solid quilting time in the wee hours of the morning, and also spend time with the kids while they are off. Then in the evenings, my husband and I would work together to get dinner made and cleaned up as well as carting the kids to soccer games, or whatever else was going on. Suddenly, we had 2 kids on travel soccer teams, and 1 taxi! This wasn’t plain old juggling…this was juggling cats! Needless to say…we ate more than one meal in the minivan!

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As summer faded into fall…and we signed up for all of our usual activities, more soccer, dance (for both girls), piano lessons, robotics, chorus, drama club,a bowling league, bible quizzing, youth group etc. I realized it truly does “take a village”. Although I won’t say I didn’t complain, or get a little bit stressed at times, I will say how truly blessed we were to have our little village. Our family, church family, and community surrounded us with love, and all the support I needed. Between meals, and rides for the kids, helping hands, a getaway at a cottage for respite from life, we were well loved indeed. We also had the opportunity to do some traveling and visit some wonderful friends, who also gave me some respite.

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I’m happy to say, that the deployment ended in December. Cliff came home. We celebrated.

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“Survival Mode” is over. I am no longer in the frame mind that allows only the necessities to be completed. I can now have lunch with a friend, go for a run, or write a blog post, without feeling like I’m neglecting something or someone. We are settling into a routine. I have learned SO much through these past few months.

Looking back, I did more than survive 2014. The relationships between myself and each of my kids is richer and deeper as a result of having leaned on each other. The bond between myself and my husband is stronger (and I think we appreciate each other a bit more!) One of our Bible Quizzing quote verses is Romans 8:28, a verse that I am witnessing in my own life today.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

I did achieve some of those 2014 goals I mentioned. I started a blog. I did hire a wonderful apprentice, who is doing a fabulous job! I also increased profits…a little, and helped a few more people finish up those quilts. I gave a lot of thought to my unfinished quilts (I know, thinking about them doesn’t accomplish anything!) and I SURVIVED!

I’m hoping to spend more time blogging in 2015. I have found that I enjoy sharing my thoughts from behind the quilting machine, and I hope you will enjoy reading them.

I’m looking forward to finishing up the “8 things” series quickly so I can share with you what else is up my sleeve for 2015!

Thing #4 How I see a quilt…

For a long time, it never occurred to me to IMG_1907consider that I might see quilts differently than others see them.  I have had countless conversations with people about quilts, usually theirs, sometimes mine.  One of the most common things I hear is “don’t look at the mistakes”.  I usually laugh when I hear this since it would be quite a challenge for me to quilt a quilt without looking at it.  The truth is, however, that I rarely notice “mistakes.”  Quilts are hand made, they are all unique, and believe me, I have not seen a perfect one yet!  Maybe that’s why so many people are drawn to quilting…it gives us an opportunity to strive for that ever elusive dream of getting all of our points just right without being cut off, while still managing to produce a remarkable thing of beauty,
even when we don’t manage perfection.

 

One thing that has caught me by surprise is that, with a few exceptions, I have no trouble thinking of quilting ideas for clients quilts.  I can also look in a magazine and come up with a few ideas for quilting the sample quilts.  However, when it comes to my own quilts…I can be stumped for months.  Some of my tops have yet to be finished because I can’t imagine how to quilt them! I find this to be somewhat frustrating, but I think I know why it happens.

When I am working on a project myself, it is hard for me to see it as a whole.  I can visualize how it will look when it’s done, but I just can’t seem to see the “forest for the trees.”

 

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Since I have been involved in the fabric selection, as well as the cutting and piecing process…I think I have some sort of mental block about the finished product. However, with a client’s quilt, I have never seen it in any other state…so all I see is the whole.

 

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This can have it’s benefits.  Since I don’t always know what the individual blocks were intended to be, I can often add a new design element to the quilt by accentuating a secondary pattern through quilting.  At times, however, I think it can also make communication difficult.  For me, it is important to be able to fulfill the client’s vision for their quilt, this can be a bit of a challenge when the client and I are seeing two different things.  I always strive to communicate with clients to the point that we are both seeing the same thing, I hope this is the case more times than not!

I hope this information helps you with your next visit to your long-arm quilter.  Do you find it difficult to choose quilting patterns on your own quilts too?

 

 

Thing #5: Some thoughts on Backing…

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Over the past ten plus years of quilting professionally, I have seen a wide variety of choices of backing fabrics for quilts. Backing fabric selection seems to have  a wide spectrum of opinions on importance.  Some quilt-makers would argue that you should spend a proportionate amount of time and money on the backing of the quilt as you do on the top, others would say, “just use anything…no one sees the back anyway!”

Since I opened my business, I have kept a bolt of 108″ wide natural muslin as an option for clients to purchase for the backs of their quilts.  Traditionally muslin has been a popular choice for backing fabric.  Even a high quality muslin fabric is less expensive than it’s printed fabric counterpart, and some quilt admirers prefer to be able to see the quilting stitches on the back, which muslin lends itself to.
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Some clients prefer to coordinate their backing fabric with the fabrics they have used on the top of the quilt.  This is a common choice for bed quilts since often the backing is seen while using the quilts, and can even lend some interest by being exposed when the bed is made.  In this case, it is somewhat convenient to purchase all the fabrics that will be needed for the quilt’s top and backing at the same time…this way, you can prevent some searching for just the right fabric after the quilt top is complete…which if you’re anything like me could be years later!

Another popular choice is to purchase a neutral extra wide (depending on the size of the quilt of course) backing fabric.  This is a time saver in that you don’t have to piece the backing fabric.  There are many prints available at local quilt shops, and the quality of the fabric is usually the same as premium cotton quilting fabric.  I am a fan of this approach.  The lack of seams makes it easier to load smoothly on the take up leader.

Once in a while, a quilt-maker will take the time to piece his or her backing fabric either using left-over blocks from the top, or an assortment of fabrics that coordinate with it.  I like this creative approach, even though it takes a bit more time to execute.
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From my point of view, there are a few variables that affect my preference for backing fabric.  One important factor is quilting thread color.  My personal preference is that the quilting design should enhance the overall impression of the quilt.  In most cases, this would mean that the quilting lines blend in, and it is the relief of the quilting itself that adds to the quilt rather than “stealing the show.”  In order to achieve this, a busy back or one on which the quilting thread would blend in is a good option.  This may be a little bit of insecurity on my part…I would rather not have every stitch open to scrutiny.  There are also times when a little contrast on the back can create a stunning effect, and added impact:
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Another variable is quality of fabric.  I have found over the years, that the quality of the fabric on the quilt has an influence on how well the machine stitches.  I’m not sure why, but at times when there is a low quality fabric used for the backing of a quilt, there is an increase in frequency of broken thread and sometimes skipped stitches.  I think it’s worth mentioning also, that if you are going to spend the money on high quality fabric for the top, it makes sense to back the quilt with a fabric that will wear, wash, and decay at the same rate on the back.  One approach I don’t prefer, is purchasing sheets for backing quilts.  They may seem to be the right size, but the fabric is not the ideal weight or weave for this application.

What’s your favorite approach to choosing backing fabric?  Have you tried any creative techniques you’d like to share?

 

 

Thing #6: How a quilt is loaded on the machine

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I recently had a delightful conversation with one of my most accomplished clients. We were reminiscing about the first time we met, during which I had volunteered to be her scribe while she judged a quilt show. During the time we spent together, I asked her so many questions that we were quite late coming out of the show and everyone was waiting for us! I remembered this with some embarrassment; however, she remembered it fondly. She shared that she appreciated my eagerness to learn. It is true, I have a somewhat insatiable curiosity about the world around me. I am always striving to learn more about things that I am interested in, and always feel better about something if I understand how it works.

It is because of this quirky part of my personality, that I wanted to share with you the process by which quilts are loaded onto the machine. Some may not care to read all the details I will share, but for others, I believe this post will fill in the blanks of how the quilting process begins, and may shed a little light on why some long-arm quilting policies exist.

When I receive a quilt from a client, the first thing I do is measure both the top and the backing of the quilt. Sometimes the quilt-maker will have marked the top with the dimensions (usually this is a small piece of paper safety pinned to one edge). I am a very trusting person, but I also believe you can never measure too many times.  The top measurements are what I use to calculate cost of quilting, and I measure the backing to make sure that it is at least 5 inches longer than the quilt top.

When it comes time to put the quilt on the frame of the machine, I measure the top and back again.  What’s that old carpenter’s adage? Measure twice, cut once.  In my case, I measure twice, and avoid a whole lot of heartache when I get to the end of a quilt on the machine. Once I have confirmed the measurements, the decision is made of how to put the quilt on the machine.  There are a couple of factors that go into this decision.  The most common deciding factor is which edge of the backing fabric is straightest, which is usually the selvage edges.

I’d say that 80-90 percent of the quilts I IMG_3746finish have one or two piece backings. Either they are fewer than 45 inches wide, the client has purchased an extra wide backing fabric, or the back has been pieced with one seam down the middle.  In  the case of a one piece backing, the quilt will almost always be put on the machine so that the back is attached on the selvage. Most often this means that the quilt top will be oriented sideways on the machine.  One of the benefits of this is that when the quilt is complete, because it’s been attached to the machine this way, the seam will usually not be centered on the back of the quilt.  Because most quilts are stored folded, and most quilts are folded in half first, this prevents some wear.  The seams are generally a weak point on a quilt, and if they are continually folded at the seam, it weakens it further.

If attaching a quilt on the selvage isn’t an option, either due to client preference or because a pieced backing needs to be centered, it is possible to attach the quilt to the machine frame the opposite way,  However, this means the edge of the backing usually needs to be trimmed to insure it is straight.

 

I use a wonderful invention called “red snappers” to attachIMG_3740 a quilt to the canvas leaders on the machine table.  They are a great time saver over the old end to end pin method, and I can usually get a quilt loaded onto the machine in about a half hour.  This is a significant improvement to the hour to ninety minutes it used to take.  The red snappers do an excellent job of holding the quilt top and backing onto the leaders so that an appropriate amount of tension can be achieved.  Also, since no pins are used to attach the quilt to the leaders I don’t run the risk of damaging the fabric with pin holes or tears if the back isn’t perfectly straight.  The only complaint I have about these tools is that my children often mistake them as toy swords, and I sometimes have to spend some time searching for them before I can use them  :).

The first component of the quilt to be loaded onto the machine is the backing fabric.  This is done by spreading the back out over the canvas pick-up roller and, after insuring it is centered, using the red snappers to secure it to the lower backing roller.

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The backing fabric is then carefully rolled around the backing roller.  While it is rolled, any folds or fullness is carefully smoothed out, in an effort to prevent any tucks or fullness in the back of the quilt.  The same process is then repeated with the quilt top, which is attached to the top roller which you can see in the photo above toward the front of the quilting frame.

After both top and backing are securely fastened on their respective leaders, the batting is measured and cut and placed over the rolled up top in preparation for attaching all three layers to the pick-up roller.

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The backing fabric is then pulled around the belly bar (yes, that’s what we call it) and fastened to the pick-up roller. This will serve as the foundation onto which the batting and top are then basted.

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Tension is then added to the quilt sandwich by turning the top and backing rollers. And voila!  The quilt is ready to be quilted!
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8 Things Every Quilter Should Know: An Introduction

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In 18 years of making quilts…yes, I started when I was five ;)…I have picked up a few tricks of the trade.   I have also added the final quilting touch to over 1,200 quilts since I began with Town and Country Quilter.  The quilting process gives you a new perspective on the quilt as a whole, especially when you haven’t been involved in the piecing of the quilt.

I have come up with a few things that would be helpful if every quilter knew before bringing a quilt to be quilted, some you may already know, others may come as a surprise.  In this series of blog posts, I will share some of what I have learned.  If you have questions, or other tips to share, I hope you will leave a comment!

In the meantime, happy quilting, and remember…a quilt isn’t a quilt until it’s quilted!025

 

#8 Squaring up Blocks

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“Squaring up blocks” really does matter.

This little tidbit of truth actually eluded me for quite a while. As a quilt-maker myself, I had a little too much confidence in my piecing accuracy, and just didn’t feel like it was necessary to spend the time to take that extra step of making sure my blocks were uniform in size, and square. As I worked on quilt after quilt, whose makers varied in precision and accuracy, I began to notice that some quilts just lie flatter than others. Even when the points all match, and the blocks seem to be sewn accurately, it seems like only a few are like patchwork seas of tranquility. It occurred to me that there might be a correlation between a nice smooth quilt top and that pesky step of  squaring up that I had skipped so often. I never did take a survey of my “flat-quilt clients,” but upon conducting an experiment on my own projects, I found that it really did make a difference. So if you treasure the smooth look of precisely pieced patchwork, don’t skip the old “square up.”142

When squaring up blocks, I use a 15.5″ x 15.5″ Omnigrid Ruler.  I like the bright yellow of the lines…which easily contrasts with most of my fabric.  One thing to be careful of is that you keep the 1/4″ line on your ruler aligned with any points you have at the edge of your block…this will ensure the 1/4″ seam as well as help you stay true to the size the block was meant to be.  I usually cut off the right and top sides of my block, and then turn it around and cut it to size.  This is a good way to make sure your blocks are not only square, but uniform in size. You may be able to see that there are ruled lines on my cutting mat.  For the most part, I do not use those lines for measuring fabric for cutting as I am piecing.

I generally save the squaring up step for after all my blocks are pieced.  This way I can quickly trim all the blocks, and if I do them all at the same time, I am more likely to keep them the same size too!

Do you have a tale to tell about your experiences with “squaring up”…or skipping it?