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!

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.

 

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 #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!
Loaded on the Machine

What’s your Style?

One of the most fun perks of being a long-arm quilt artist is the ability to experience so many different quilts.  The world of quilting has a wide spectrum of styles and opportunities for our creative spirits to be brought to fruition.  Right now, if you were  to journey into my quilting studio, you would see a closet full of quilt tops waiting to become quilts.  Not only do these quilts each have their own personality, but they fall into a broad category of style.

There’s a batik star wall-hanging that is waiting for some custom quilting, and a couple of intricately pieced civil war reproduction quilts.   There are two quilts that were pieced by someone’s dear grandma, but never finished…these have a 1980’s flair.  I even have some Irish Chain blue and white quilt tops that are waiting for me to get around to giving them feather wreaths and a binding.

The spectrum of style on my rack changes frequently.  I have clients who are “art quilt” makers…a category seemingly without boundaries, and several traditional quilters, who would probably prefer to hand quilt all their projects, but are too eager to get on to the next project.  There are quilts made from 1930’s reproduction fabrics, sweet pastels that mimic flour sacks from that era, and those that feature the cutting edge of fabric design.

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Many of my clients find great satisfaction in stash reduction and bring me quilts with all sorts of different fabrics, I once had a quilting buddy who used to say “If you have enough different fabrics in there, everything goes!”  This was in a quilt shop at the exact moment I was choosing the border fabric for the quilt pictured below.

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One thing I personally struggle with is my own personal style.  If you were to look at all the quilts I have completed, you would find that my style is almost as eclectic as the collection of quilts on my rack. I have made quite a few table runners…each with a different season in mind.   I have also made several bed quilts with sort of a contemporary/traditional feel.  I once spent half a year cutting little rectangles to make a scrappy quilt…which I then gave away as a wedding gift to someone who was about to get a divorce! (I wish I had kept that one!)

I have used batiks, and flannel, as well as home-spuns, and even some Minky.  I have made a few baby quilts (although I wish I could have completed one for each baby I have known) and several juvenile type quilts for my kids.  One of my favorite quilts was a watercolor Irish Chain quilt, which I hand quilted…except for the borders which I did on the long-arm.

One theme seems to be as prevalent in my list of completed quilts as it is in the people I work for.  The quilts, you see, are not for me.   Just as I hear over and over as I receive my life’s work, they are gifts.  The design process, and assembly is not only an opportunity to express my creativity, but it is a labor of love.  I don’t make quilts so I can decorate my home, or have a pile of quilts, I make them because I get great joy in the process, and also because I get great joy in expressing my love for someone through the gift of a quilt.  Since gifts that I make are mostly for others, and the goal is for those others to love their quilt, I choose to adapt to their style, making something that they will appreciate, and cherish.

One thing that is clear to me, is what my personal style is NOT.  I am not a “modern” quilter.  I am also not an “art-quilt” maker.  While I am able to appreciate the beauty of these two styles, and admire the quilts that represent them, they just aren’t me.  I think I lean toward traditional, but with contemporary colors and prints.  I joke with one of my friends that I “used to be blue, but now I’m red.”  My style has evolved over the past several years, and surely will change in the years to come.  I should probably start another scrap quilt to use up all those fabrics I love in my stash before I change my mind!

When I think about all the different patterns I have quilted,  a whole new discussion comes to mind…maybe I’ll share that one later!  If you had to decide what your quilting style is…what would it be?