Sunday, March 24, 2013

Making Your Longarm Quilter Happy

All right, so bringing her your quilts goes a long way toward making your longarm quilter happy but there are things you can do to make her even happier with the quilting you bring her way.

Before I owned a longarm I heard the requirements for the quilts I took to a longarmer and I followed them, but it wasn't until I started quilting on a longarm myself that I really understood why they were asking me to do certain things when I was preparing a quilt for quilting.  One of those was providing a backing that was 2"-3" larger all around than the quilt top.  It isn't just to make you buy more fabric or to sometimes seam the backing.

Recently I was given a top, backing, and batting to quilt for Project Linus.   I think the pattern must have been designed with the assumption that the backing would be 44" wide, but it was not and there was, at most, 1/2" around.   I could have basted some extra strips of fabrics to the sides and sacrificed a bit of the outside border of the top but I thought it might be a good chance to illustrate the reason for the extra 2"-3" around on the backing.  (And the baby quilt was small enough that it would be less time-consuming to correct what the 1/2" wrought!)   I hope that the photos and description will help to illustrate.

If you've seen a quilt loaded on a longarm frame/table you've probably noticed the clips that run, on straps, from the sides of the frame to the edges of the quilt.  The purpose of these is to stabilize the edges of the quilt so they aren't "flapping in the wind."  The  clips need room along the edges to clip to the quilt.  They don't have to take a large "bite" into the quilt, so why more than a half inch or so?

The longarm machine has a base, or bed, that is several inches wide on either side of the needle and anything that is in the path of that part of the machine has the potential to stop or impede the flow of the machine and, therefore, the quilting.  Even a small bump can cause a blip in the quilting.   If there are a couple of inches there is room for the machine to navigate around the clip. (Below you can see how the edge of the machine bed is going to hit the pony clip underneath.)

When the margin is as small as the 1/4" - 1/2" that I was working with, the edge of the clip was right at the edge of the quilt top so I couldn't quilt in that area if the pattern called for it be quilting there.   My longarm is hand-guided, so I if I'm watching I can try to manually account for that and adjust and hopefully, being at the edge it wouldn't be TOO noticeable. (I can guess that it would be more of an issue on a computerized machine, as the computer can't see the problem coming up and make a correction for it.)  Here I've cut away the batting to the edge of the backing, so you can see where the edge of the top and backing are, in relation to the clip.  The hopping foot is bumping up right against the clip, which means I couldn't quilt to the edge--and the clip is barely holding the edge, which isn't as stable as I'd like, and puts extra strain on the edge there.

 I could plan ahead and move the clips so they fall  where a part of the pattern doesn't.  However, that can cause problems of its own:  without anything to stabilize that edge, the tension is all over the map.  Here, on the back of the quilt, you can see a star at the edge from which I'd moved a clip, so I wouldn't run into it with the machine.

 In the end, it took me much longer to quilt this than it would have had there been more of a margin, because I had to make extra adjustments in the setup and then re-do the quilting at the edges that weren't stabilized.   Most importantly, it didn't make it easy to do the quality work that I strive to do.

Next time you prepare a backing and top to take to your quilter, be assured that she will appreciate that margin around the backing, and be able to do a better job for you.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Is there anything better than a Nine Patch?

Designing quilts and trying new ideas and patterns is a great deal of fun for me.   I often have quite a short attention span, however, and like to have several projects going at once so I can switch around. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)  After finally arriving at the proper width of a sashing for a new design---after four re-tries--I decided to just do some plain, old-fashioned piecing:  pedal to metal, straight-on, feed-it-through piecing.   As I'm working on scrap quilts for a presentation and/or book project I settled on an old scrap project.

There is nothing like a Nine-Patch, is there?  No matter how many quilts I do, no matter how many blocks I piece, no matter how many artsy quilts I design, it is always a delight to come back to the simple but perfect nine-patch.  Its basic design and configuration figure into so many traditional blocks, and many modern designs, as well.

It has been "improved" (debatable, I think), skewed, made uneven, curved....and while those are all perfectly lovely designs, to my mind the original is still the best.  I like any quilt with nine-patches in it.

There are several nine-patch quilts in my UFOs (have I mentioned that I have a short attention span?) but today I went back to the oldest nine-patch waiting for me.   I have been cutting and collecting 1-1/2" squares for, oh, probably 30 years now--and that doesn't count the 1-1/2" strips I collect to be, eventually, in this nine-patch.  When I cut for a quilt, I cut leftover pieces to 5", 2-1/2" strips or squares and, when I can't cut anything that size, the pieces are cut to 1-1/2" strips or squares. (I draw the line at pieces smaller than 1-1/2."  Yes, if I were a better woman I would keep smaller pieces, but there you have it; I'm not that woman!)  If there are at least four squares of the same fabric they go into the nine-patch box; if there are fewer than four they go into a separate box for a postage stamp quilt.  Someday.

I've had some children, over the years, settle in with the box to help me sort through them, gathering stacks of fours and fives, and it can be a settling exercise for me, too.  And having developed a method for piecing them easily, it's also a soothing activity for me to piece them.  I don't have to concentrate or work through the math, I can just feed the squares through the machine and have my favorite block emerge.

It's going to be awhile, I imagine, before this quilt is finished and when it is I expect that I will start another.   It's not going to be elegant or masterful, it is just going to be a wonderful amalgam of fabrics from other quilts I have made, stitched together in a block that I love.  It will be colorful, for certain!

What's your favorite block?  What do you keep going back to making?