Creating a Quilt Part 6: THE QUILTING!!!

The journey for this quilt is nearing its end, and in case you didn’t get it from the above title, this is probably my favorite part of the whole creating-a-quilt process. While many quilters find their joy piecing a beautiful top together (which I agree is super fun and fulfilling), I personally feel that coming up with and actually creating the quilting design is what elevates a beautiful quilt to a spectacular quilt.

When I’m creating a quilt, I start thinking about how I’m going to actually quilt it from the very beginning of the process, but I don’t really know what I’m going to do until I’ve completed piecing the top. Then I just stare at the top and think about how I want to quilt it sometimes for days. I’m one of those people who have to let things marinate in my brain for a while before I figure out what to do.

For this quilt, I decided pretty early on that I didn’t want the quilting design to distract from the 20 “snapshot” blocks, and instead I wanted the quilting to make them pop even more. To me, that means the quilting in the sashing needed to be an overall consistent pattern that could somewhat fade into the background. Because my blocks are all based on urban visuals of Brooklyn, I thought a brick wall quilting design would be perfect. The more I thought about it, the more I really liked the idea of making my blocks look like they are displayed on an exposed brick wall, which is a pretty desirable feature in many Brooklyn apartments.

Then I had to decide how I was going to quilt each of the blocks. They definitely needed some quilting just from a practical standpoint because I didn’t want them to be completely puffy, and the quilting would flatten them down a bit.

When you’re coming up with your own quilting designs, be sure to think about how you’re actually going to use the quilt and whether or not you will be washing it regularly. If your quilt is going to be regularly washed, you will want to make sure that it is quilted all over so that the batting inside the quilt doesn’t start to distort in between the top and back of the quilt. However, if you are just hanging the quilt on a wall and don’t plan on washing it, you can basically do whatever you want with the quilting.

Back to this quilt, I had to decide if I wanted to quilt each block to help the viewer figure out some of the more abstract blocks or if I wanted to keep it as basic as possible so that they were still very abstract. I decided on the latter. So I only quilted in what I considered to be the background of each block, allowing the foreground to slightly pop out.

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know that I am obsessed with free-motion quilting (FMQ), and that’s how I generally quilt all of my quilts even if I have a design that’s all straight lines such as the brick wall motif I’m using in the sashing of this quilt. I’ve tried using rulers, and I don’t like them. I’ve tried using a walking foot, which I still use for some of my quilts, though quite rarely, but ultimately I really prefer the freedom that FMQ gives me. I also really dig how my quilting designs end up looking like a doodle or drawing, which you can really see on the back of this quilt. As much as I am truly in awe of all of the free-motion quilters out there who do phenomenal work with rulers to create geometrically perfect quilt designs, my personal style is a little more free hand.

Now that the quilting is all finished, it’s time to square it up, bind it, and attach the hanging sleeve and label. I’ll cover all of that in my final post for this “Creating a Quilt” series. I’d love to hear about your own preferences for quilting designs. Do you quilt your own quilts, or do you always send them out to a professional? Do you ever think about how quilting can enhance the overall design of your quilt top? Share your stories with all of us, and let’s all grow together as craftspeople and artists! Happy Crafting!!!

My BQG President’s Challenge 2020 Quilt

If you read last week’s post, you know that I’ve been working on my entry for the upcoming Brooklyn Quilters Guild President’s Challenge for our March 2020 quilt show. I finished up the final stitch of the facing this weekend, so this week’s post is just going to be pictures of the finished quilt. I’m so happy with the results! Enjoy the pics and happy crafting!!!

Quilting 201: Preparing for FMQ

If you’ve read some of my past posts you already know how much I love free-motion quilting (FMQ). I find it not only visually stimulating but also completely freeing when I sit down at my sewing machine to finally stitch all of the layers of my quilt together. I pretty much FMQ all of my quilts these days with rare exceptions, and I love whenever I have the opportunity to FMQ a mini quilt because I’m able to quilt more meticulous designs without taking hours to finish like it would take on a larger quilt.

Continuing the trend that the co-presidents began in 2018, the Brooklyn Quilters Guild will have a President’s Challenge for our upcoming biennial quilt show in March of 2020. The prompt is a quote by Maya Angelou.

“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”

The quilts must measure 36″ x 36″ and incorporate six to seven of the colors of the rainbow in some way. Otherwise, they can be any style, pattern, etc. I decided to take this as an opportunity to go a little crazy with my FMQ by creating a quilt top that is mostly negative space which can be brimming with free-motion quilting.

The pieced portion of the quilt is quite small, so this is almost a whole-cloth quilt. Some of the quilters I follow suggest using a double layer of batting for whole-cloth quilts or any quilt where you want the quilting design to really pop. The general suggestion is a layer of 80/20 cotton batting and a layer of wool batting, so I’m going to give it a shot.

Once I pin baste my quilt sandwich, I start thinking about the thread color(s) I want to use. I’ve decided to extend the pieced design onto the negative space of the quilt, so I’ve picked thread colors that match each of the pieced stripes.

Before I start quilting any project, I like to plan out my quilting designs. I get out my sketchbook and start doodling. Not only does this help me clarify some ideas before putting thread to fabric, but it also starts getting those designs into my muscle memory.

Once I’m ready to actually start quilting, I set my machine up by installing my FMQ presser foot and bobbin case, lowering the feed dogs of my sewing machine, and placing a Supreme Slider mat over my needle plate. I want as little friction as possible when I’m sliding my quilt under the needle, and the Supreme Slider really helps me with that.

I also always make a tiny quilt sandwich out of scraps of my actual quilt to test the tension before I ever start quilting on the real one. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. ALWAYS TEST YOUR TENSION BEFORE STARTING ON YOUR REAL PROJECT!!!

And now I’m ready to start quilting. I can’t wait to see how this turns out! I’d love to hear any pointers you have to share when it comes to FMQ prep. Add them in the Comments section below so we can all benefit from each other’s experience. Happy crafting!!

How Will It Turn Out?: My First (and probably last) Mystery Quilt

I was probably about nine months into my quilting journey before I heard the term “mystery quilt.” For those of you who don’t know, a mystery quilt is designed by a person or group, and the instructions for each quilt block are handed out to the participants at periodic intervals. The participants don’t know what the overall quilt is going to look like until they receive the final set of instructions telling them how to put all of the blocks together.

It’s a very fun concept, and it’s a way for people all over the world to share an experience together at the same time. Most mystery quilt challenges have a Facebook page or an Instagram hashtag that participants use to post progress photos, and you get to see the different color choices everyone made while you also guess about what the overall design is going to turn out to be.

I decided to sign up for the National Quilters Circle mystery quilt challenge in the fall of 2018. It was designed by Toby Lischko, and we received new instructions once a week for about nine or ten weeks. I signed up because I wanted to find out just how a mystery quilt worked, because I thought it would be a great way to use up some of my stash, and because this particular one was free. Yay!

Our first set of instructions told us that the quilt was going to be a medallion quilt, meaning you start with one large block in the middle and then piece a variety of borders around it for the rest of the quilt. I had never done a medallion quilt before, so I got excited about that. The instructions also gave us yardage amounts and a very general color guide — so many yards of a dark color, so many yards of a complementary light color, so many yards of a neutral, etc.

I decided right at the start that I was going to try to only use my stash if at all possible. The tricky part was that most of my stash consists of fat quarters and a few half-yard packs, so I wasn’t going to have enough of any one particular fabric to use it throughout the entire quilt. So that meant I was going to have to get really creative about the colors I used. On the one hand, I always love thinking outside the box, especially when it comes to color. On the other hand, by the time the quilt was finished, I definitely would have made some different color choices had I known how the blocks were going to end up being placed.

I really enjoyed the overall process of the mystery quilt challenge. This particular quilt is filled with stars and really forced me to get serious about keeping my points. I learned so many new techniques with all of these blocks.

However, the reason why I probably won’t do another mystery quilt challenge again is because I had a bit of an epiphany once I put the top together. This was something that had been simmering in my subconscious for a while, but it really hit home with this quilt. As much fun as I had putting the top together, the prospect of putting it all together as a quilt sandwich and quilting it did not excite me in the least because it wasn’t my design. I realized that at this point in my quilting journey, I only get true satisfaction from quilting when it’s my creation from beginning to end. Maybe that will change over the years, but for now it’s just the way it is.

Even though I made that realization and even though I dragged my feet a bit, there is a larger part of my personality that cannot keep a project unfinished. So I did eventually put it all together and quilt it. This was by far the largest quilt I’ve ever made, and the fact that I was able to free-motion quilt it all on my little Janome DC2012 made me realize I could really do anything on this baby.

Once I finished quilting it, I kind of had no idea what I was going to do with it. I finally decided to gift it to my grandma for her 94th birthday. I’m hoping the bright colors will brighten up the upcoming gray days of winter. So while I have no intention of participating in a mystery challenge anytime soon, I am very happy I completed this one.

Have any of you participated in mystery challenges? What are your favorite kinds of quilt challenges? Do you prefer working from someone else’s design or creating something completely on your own? We all work differently and I’d love to hear your stories. Happy crafting!

Fun with FMQ!

I LOVE free-motion quilting — or FMQ, as the cool kids call it!! If you’ve scrolled through my quilt gallery, you’ve probably noticed that I pretty much free-motion quilt almost all of my quilts. I love how versatile and creative it allows me to be when creating the quilting design of my projects. In today’s post, I’m going to take you on a little journey through my FMQ history. Enjoy!

When I quilted my very first quilt, I used a walking foot and straight-line quilting. I did not enjoy the process. at. all. I had to keep turning the quilt over and over through my tiny, little machine, and by the time I was finished I didn’t think I would ever quilt again.

But while I was obsessively trying to find out as much about quilting as I could, I ran across this crazy thing called free-motion quilting. Suddenly I was eager to try my hand at it which meant making another quilt. Yay! I chose a 20-block sampler quilt designed by Amy Gibson for Craftsy, and I paired that with Leah Day’s free-motion quilting class which was specifically designed to help you quilt Amy Gibson’s sampler quilt.

Because I was brand new at FMQ, I decided to use the quilt-as-you-go method so I could just concentrate on one 10″ x 10″ block at a time. It only took a couple blocks to realize that FMQ was a game changer for me. The actual quilting process became my favorite part of making a quilt!

Once I discovered FMQ, there was no turning back. I started free-motion quilting all of my projects. Here are a few of my favorites. For “Beyond the Machine,” I quilted mostly straight lines, but I still used the free-motion quilting technique instead of a walking foot because I wanted the freedom of moving the quilt in any direction without turning the whole thing around.

I specifically designed “Verdant Promises” with eight all-white Ohio Star blocks so that I had tons of negative space to quilt in as well as natural borders to help contain the different designs.

The blocks for “Caged Cacophony” are one of six colors, so I decided to give each color a specific FMQ motif. Then I had fun with the borders.

“Urban Collective I” was my first foray into graffiti-style FMQ. The blocks are just quilted in the ditch, but the sashing and borders are filled with quilting. I love the contrast of modern quilting with the traditional blocks.

This next quilt is just a solid fat quarter that I used for practice. I started with a specific design idea for the center, but then I just let the quilting take me where it wanted to go. This was my first whole cloth experience, albeit a very small whole cloth. I hope to do a wall-sized whole cloth quilt someday.

Because “Baby’s First Chevron” has such a modern look, I wanted the quilting to maintain that feel. So instead of filling up all of that negative space with tons of FMQ motifs, I simply used straight lines to extend the chevron pattern throughout the quilt but in different directions that keep the eye moving. Even though these are straight lines, I still used the FMQ presser foot and technique because a walking foot would have been too cumbersome with so many changes in direction.

“Greener Pastures” shows my basic FMQ design approach when I don’t have anything specific in mind. I try to decide if I want the design to be more geometric with sharp, straight lines and angles or something more organic with curves. I decided to alternate between the two for the different strips in this Fence Rail quilt.

My most recent FMQ project was “We Only Got One, Folks,” where each of the inset circles represents an important aspect of conservation — earth/plants, water, air, and endangered species. I chose FMQ motifs within the circles to enhance the individual designs. Then I “wrote” in cursive around each of the circles, using words and phrases representing each of the conservation aspects, something that would be impossible with a walking foot.

I really love how FMQ gives me so much freedom when it comes to the quilt design of all of my projects. I can choose to do simple straight lines if I really want the quilt top pattern to stand out. Or I can go crazy with the quilting if that’s the wow factor I’m looking for. Do any of you free-motion quilt? Do you love it as much as I do? If you don’t FMQ yet, what are you waiting for? I bet you’ll fall in love with it as deeply as I have once you give it a chance. Let me know what you think, and happy crafting!!

Portrait Quilt: A Happy Surprise

The current co-president of the Brooklyn Quilters Guild began a small group last year called Quilt Explorers. We are given prompts and are then tasked with interpreting those prompts into 20″ x 20″ mini quilts. It’s a fun way to experiment with new techniques, flex your creative muscles, and often surprise yourself with the finished result. At least that’s what usually happens for me, and the most recent prompt was no exception: A portrait quilt.

I decided I wanted to use my mother’s high school senior photo as the inspiration for my quilt. I currently don’t use appliqué, but I wanted to figure out how to get a similar result with piecing. My first idea was to create a pixelated quilt. I had never tried that before, and I thought it would be a fun interpretation. However, once I started working on it, I was not happy with the result. I’ll probably go back to the pixel idea one of these days, but I decided to change tack.

I had been having fun with improv curves, so I figured I would go ahead and try to piece the portrait using curved piecing throughout. I mean, I was getting pretty good at it, so it shouldn’t be too hard, right? Oof. The result was not pretty.

I was feeling pretty dejected at this point, so I decided to put the portrait quilt project to the side. However, I had an idea for how to piece eyes that I wanted to try out. So I grabbed my smallest hexi template, cut out some fabric, and then pieced around it until I came up with a couple of really cool eyes. Suddenly I was inspired! I realized I could use these as the kernel for my portrait quilt. But instead of using my mother’s photo I was just going to completely improv piece a random portrait and see what would happen. (And I was going to keep the improv curves to a minimum.)

The result was a pretty funky-looking woman that I’m totally happy with. I think I must have been drawing subconscious inspiration from the old Beetlejuice cartoons I used to watch on Saturday mornings as a kid because this character would have totally fit in.

If I had to do it again, I would definitely make some changes, especially for the nose. But overall, this turned out to be a happy ending. It is yet another example of where my initial couple of ideas completely failed, I wanted to give up, and then a burst of creative energy fueled me into a fun finish. In fact, I’m thinking at some point I’ll do a whole family of these portraits and make a “gallery” quilt out of them. I think that’ll be super fun!

Have you had any similar experiences? Have you started out a project one way and then ended with a completely different finish? I’d love to hear about it! Leave comments below and share your stories with all of us. Happy crafting!!