Last week I spent several hours practicing on a long arm machine. I decided to work on a quilt top that I made last fall. Using Kaffe Fassett stripes and solids, I made a strip quilt last fall. As often happens, it was put aside and left untouched for almost a year. By the time I finished this quilt top, it was distorted and nowhere near flats. Not sure if you remember this one, but here is the first post if you want the back story. In that post I mentioned that I had put some of the strips together incorrectly and had to do a bit of seam ripping to fix it. I think I handled the strips too much and they really stretched. If you haven’t handled Kaffe Fassett shot cottons, they are very soft. This makes for a cozy quilt but using a jelly roll of this was harder than I expected. Of all my quilts, I am sure this one has the most technical flaws. But it is also one of the prettiest because of all the color.
Fast forward eleven months, I decided to finally finish it. The colors are gorgeous and it deserves to be used. I knew it would never be a quilt to brag on but oh, it is so soft. Quilting it on my machine or the long arm was going to be problematic either way. I figured if I took it to the shop, they might be able to help me to make it as good as possible. When I showed it to the owner, he said I could choose to make it flat and out of square (by a long ways) or I could square it and there would be some big folds that I would just have to quilt down. Without much deliberation, I chose to smooth it and deal with squaring it up later. The larger goal was to practice with the long arm. He helped me load it and played with it to get it as flat as he could.
I didn’t have much of a quilting ‘plan’ in my head with this. More important was learning to use the machine and get the feel of it. The speed picks up on the machine and it is difficult to get into a rhythm that isn’t too fast and allows me to have good control over moving the needle. I did a random stipple with a few loops here and there. It was so much fun. I loved the freedom of movement since I wasn’t dealing with the weight of the quilt. When I think back on how it felt when I was guiding the needle, I am certain I was going to fast. My concern was if I slowed down, my stitch length would shorten and be inconsistent. Plus I would just forget and my speed would increase!
Speed was my primary problem. Second to that was judging how close I could quilt near the top and bottom bars. I found myself going too close and getting trapped in places. There is no reason to go that close; it is cleaner to stay a couple of inches away from the top bar and bottom. But I would get my speed going too fast and dang it, I would find myself trapped again!
Even laying it as flat as possible, there are a few significant puckers. It couldn’t be helped. I think using the long arm to quilt it was much more successful than my home machine would have been. I could look ahead and as I moved the quilt over the bars I gently finessed it as flat as possible. Now, remember he said if I went for smooth and flat, it would be warped and out of square? Oh my, he was right. 🙂
When I got it home I trimmed the excess batting and backing away with scissors, just to see what I was dealing with. Then I did a few dramatic, heavy sighs and asked Ray for help. I knew he would have a solution. The issue was that if I cut it square, it would be so obvious due to the linear pattern of the stripes. Both the top and bottom green stripes would have been sliced at strange angles. Ray suggested taking some of the striped fabric and enlarging the width at the bottom of the stripes. This would give a bit of an illusion of a straight line and I would be able to keep the full width of both green stripes. (I am married to a genius.) I never even thought of it. I have quite a bit of the striped fabric left over. There was no problem cutting a piece and matching the stripe up completely.
Most of the extra width is covered by the binding. It was a simple solution and I am so pleased with the result. As I said earlier, this quilt is filled with flaws. But when I look at it I am quite happy with it. The colors are lovely and the feel is so soft. Learning to use the long arm feels a bit like going backward. I am just getting some confidence with my free motion skills on my domestic machine and now I am back at square one, learning to quilt all over again!
On Thursday this week, I will be back in the shop. I am going to quilt my plus quilt. Hopefully I will be able to control my speed a bit. I am going to try to be diligent about leaving myself space at the top and bottom bars. My plan is to do loose spirals in the negative space and straight line quilting within the pluses. I think (I hope?) that is a reasonable goal for me at this point. Any hints or tips on my long arm practice sessions are more than welcome! Also, while I am thinking of it, do I do all of the straightline quilting and then go back and do the spirals or do I just do whatever shows up within the space of the bars and keep moving it in the one direction? Inquiring minds need to know!
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