Sunday, July 31, 2011

My First Long Arm Quilt!

I finally gathered up enough courage to quilt my first quilt on a long arm!  As I posted earlier, I took a class at Mad About Quilts (MAQ) in Mansfield, MA.  Dora and MaryAnn run the studio and are an absolute joy to be around.  They are so nice, patient beyond words and very supportive.  The patience and the supportive part, very important features to have in this business!

I went through my large pile of tops on the chair of shame and found one that I already had a backing for.  So, having everything I needed, I sat down and made the call to book my appointment.  I grabbed my safety pins and started pinning the back and the top to the zipper system MAQ uses.  It's a pain to pin these items but what a time saver in the long run!  When they get zippered on, it's already centered and so easy to load onto the machine.  Plus, if you don't finish (which you probably won't), the next time the quilt is loaded on, it's perfectly aligned again.

MaryAnn wasn't around the first night I went so Dora helped me load the quilt on the machine and we made sure it was straight at it was loading and taut.  I then chose Clematis for my pattern.  Dora was very nice as she tried showing my easier patterns to start with for my first time but I liked Clematis and Clematis was what I was going to have.

So, with the quilt loaded on the machine and the machine all threaded, Dora reminded me of checking the tension to the side, and basting the top and sides as we went.  It's important to note that basting as close to the edge of the quilt is very important.  Basting even a 1/4" from the edge can cause the edges to fold over as you're quilting.  It's a learning process that I learned very quickly.  So, with everything ready, and having more instruction on what buttons to push (I usually know what buttons to push, just ask my family, but this is a little different) I was raring to go.

I quickly learned that Dora was right, there probably would have been an easier pattern to start with but I was determined to make this one work.  The pattern itself is lovely but it's confusing because it has a lot of points, swirls (which I love) and loop d loops so although you're following the pattern, it's very easy to forget which way you're going because this particular pattern changes directions.

Before I know it, I'm in the quilting zone and everything is great until Dora notices the thread has broken.  She helps me take out the stitches, we line up the pattern again and I'm off and running until the next time the thread breaks.  We tried changing needles thinking maybe we need to go to a larger needle, which helped but the thread continued to break.  I am a huge fan of Superior Thread but there is one line of theirs where I've always experienced breakage and shredding on my home machine, which is much slower than a long arm.  Needless to say, I chose this brand of thread.  Both Dora and MaryAnn have said they have never had a problem with it... well, at least until I came along.

I plundered on and kept one eye on the thread and another on my panto and soon Dora and I were pretty quick in stopping the flow of quilting so we could tend to the thread and get it all lined up again.  This is where the patience comes in real handy.

I quilted the first night for three hours and got most of the quilt done.  I made another appointment for the following week and went back.  We loaded the quilt on the machine again making sure it was all lined up and straight.  It took a while to line up the design correctly but we did it and I was off and running again.  This time I went slower and tried very hard to keep my movements as even as possible.  This helped but the thread continued to break.  It was unfortunate but that's just part of the process.

All in all it took me 5 hours to quilt a 65 x 75 throw.  I'm sure it could have been less time if I chose an easier pattern and if the thread didn't break at least once on every row.  But, I'm thrilled with the end result.

Of course, it's not perfect and I can see every mistake but I am so thrilled with what I've done.  Considering that it was my first time, I chose a hard pattern for a beginner and kept losing the quilting zone, I couldn't be happier.  I've already made an appointment to start on my niece's quilt this Wednesday after work.

I chose a nice BIG seashell pattern that looks to be much easier than my little Clematis pattern.  I already have my King Tut thread picked out as I bought it specifically for this quilt.  My back and top are pinned to the zippers I am already to go!  I'll let you know how my second experience goes.  I hope King Tut doesn't disappoint me as I've never had a problem with it.  But then again, this is me we're talking about!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Finally Finished!

I finally finished my niece's wedding present!  A signature quilt for a wedding present is always a good idea, not finishing it until the marriage is 3 - 4 years old, is not.  Thankfully, I'm happy to report they are still very happily married.  Can you imagine how awful I'd feel if they weren't?  Hey, it's been known to happen!  Any way, I finally finished the top, borders and all!  Now, I need to get it quilted.  I have the backing all picked out and in hand, I just need to iron it and pin it onto the zipper system that Mad About Quilts uses in their studio.  Yes, I'm going to quilt this myself.  No, it won't take another 3 - 4 years... wow, you guys are brutal!

I love the colors of this quilt.  My SIL told me that my niece loves beach colors so I chose blues, teals and purples for the main colors - all batiks of course!  The signature blocks are from a neutral batik with green undertones, which I thought would look nice with the other colors I chose.

I tried to assemble as many blocks as I could so people would have a guideline on where they were allowed to write.  Unfortunately, I came up with the idea about a month before the wedding and it took me another two weeks to find the design that I wanted.  I work better under pressure, what can I say?

I ironed a piece of freezer paper to the back of each signature block to make it easier for people to write on.  I also bought a few very fine line permanent pens from my local craft store.  I had been warned by some of my friends to be on the look out for drunken "well" wishes.  Thankfully I had this warning ahead of time so I could strike the reception early before it could get too out of hand.  However...
there was one drunken signature block.  This was made by my BIL's ex-wife.  I hate to say it, but it's my favorite block.  How could it not be, it's hysterical!  It's a lot better than what I was expecting to get for drunken messages!

I used a purple for my inner border and the outer border is a dark teal/green with sea turtles.  Overall, I'm very happy with it.  I plan on using a pantograph with seashells for the design.  I have three different King Tut cones that could possibly work but I'll need to take them out and audition them against the quilt. Unfortunately, the quilt measures 96 x 96, which is a nice size but too big for a queen size batting so I'll need to go with a king size - not too happy about that as I've already bought a queen size.  Oh well, I think I have another quilt that I'll be able to use that for.