The One with the DWR

DSCN0437I don’t know if I told this before, but I tend to be a traditional quilter.  Maybe there is a natural progression of quilting–starting with traditional blocks and layouts, mastering those, and then moving on to more improvisational design.  Pablo Picasso said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael but a lifetime to paint like a child.”  In any event, when I started quilting I became thrilled with learning the names of traditional blocks and decided I wanted to make a Double Wedding Ring (DWR) quilt, a Dresden Plate, a Grandmother’s Fan, and a Baltimore Album.  I still want to make all of the traditional quilts, but I also spend more time designing my own quilts and designing quilts for others.  I’m just well-rounded like that.

In early 2016, I saw a Judi Niemeyer pattern called “Flowers for My Wedding Ring.”  I found it with a purple/lavender background and I knew that my daughter-in-law would love it, so I set out to make one.  It was intended to be a Christmas present for 2016.  Well, of course it took me longer to make than I expected.  I finally finished it in February of 2017, just in time to take it to Houston and deliver it in person to my son and daughter-in-law.

I learned a number of things along the way.  I did learn how to use Judi Niemeyer’s paper piecing instructions, and I have to say that the curved piecing went quite well.  Next, I had to figure out how to lay out the appliquè flowers in a pleasing way.  I did not have a surface in my house that was big enough to lay out the whole quilt.  So, my husband came to my rescue and bought six folding banquet tables that we set up in the garage.  I laid out all of the appliquè flowers and vines, and then went around the tables with my iron and my Steady Betty (ironing surface) to get the appliquè fused to the quilt top.

And here is where things really bogged down.  Appliquè on a whole quilt top is not easy.  On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is quilting a king-sized quilt on a Singer 9960 (done that), sewing down appliquè was about a 6. I could never have imagined the time it would take to do all of that appliquè, even by machine.  Not to mention that my poor Singer went kaput, and I had to (had to, I tell you) buy a new sewing machine with a nice automatic pivot feature for the presser foot.  I bought a Baby Lock Soprano.  Then, my poor arms and shoulders began to hurt because, although I have a beautiful custom modified table for my Juki straight stitch machine, the Baby Lock did not fit, so I was using an old student desk.  The leg space was cramped, and the desk was too high.  So I got tired and moved on to other projects.  But I did set a goal of buying a table for my Baby Lock, which will be the subject of a later post.

Another thing I learned along the way is to pre-soak teal batik fabric.  Fortunately, I learned this lesson NOT the hard way.  I learned it in a class, before I started quilting the DWR, and I must have soaked that quilt back for a month.  But finally, it quit bleeding.

For the quilting, I decided on a feather pattern that I would do as free motion with a bit of marking.  As I came to the borders, I remembered reading a number of blog posts by longarm quilters along the lines of “what to do if your client gives you a quilt with wonky borders.”  The answers range from (1) charge your client to fix it; (2) offer your client the option to fix it and bring it back to you for quilting; (3) tell your client that the border is wonky and if you quilt it there will be tucks.

Okay, none of these blogs talked about what to do if the client is YOU!  Seriously people, if I knew how to make the borders better I would have done it that way.  This was the first mitered border I ever did.  Also, here’s a clue about doing appliquè on a whole quilt:  it might be a good idea to stay stitch the edge of the quilt because you are going to be tugging and pulling that baby for several months.  I did not do that, but next time I will.

So I said to myself, I said “Listen Miss Smarty Pants Longarm Quilter, if I knew how to make the borders better I would have done it that way the first time. So you’re just going to have to deal with this quilt the way that it is.”  And so I did.  And I tried the starch but I didn’t think it worked wonders.  And I quilted some tucks into the border.  And all in all, I think it looks okay.  And my daughter-in-law and son liked it.  And if they don’t’ read this blog they might never know there is a mistake in their quilt.DSCN0436



The one with the Photo and a Lesson at the End

A friend asked me to make a quilt for her.  She had a photograph that she wanted to include in the quilt, but beyond that, she had no idea what she wanted.

I drafted a plan using graph paper and crayons.  Yes, my tools were old-fashioned but the result was a modern-looking quilt.  Once I had the plan drawn, I submitted the photo to Spoonflower and had them print it on a fat quarter sized piece of cotton fabric.

While I was piecing the quilt, I kept thinking about an article from Machine Quilting Unlimited where Bethanne Nemesh discussed a process she calls mid-custom quilting.  In this style of quilting, a simple design that is quick to quilt is paired with another motif that looks much more custom.  I searched and searched for that issue of the magazine and could not seem to find it.

One morning, while I was working on the quilt, I got the idea to order a second subscription to the magazine–a digital subscription this time.  I thought that way I wouldn’t lose the magazine or forget where I saw a particular design.  However, before I had a chance to take action on that wonderful plan…I found the issue.  When I saw the article again, I was amazed at how well-suited the quilting idea was for my quilt.

Trying to save time, I decided to mark the quilt on the frame.  I thought I was being really smart, and things moved along quickly.  I marked the border feathers using a stencil and pounce powder, and I marked the vertical and horizontal lines with a disappearing purple marker.

As I approached the bottom of the quilt, I began to consider how to remove the pounce marks.  Typically, they remove with a hot iron.  Uh oh!  I then remembered that the disappearing ink pen sets permanently if heat is applied.  So the only way to safely remove both marks was to soak/wash the quilt.  And that’s what I did, and the marks all washed away.  But the lesson I learned is to consider carefully before using multiple marking methods on the same quilt.

Here are some photos of the quilt and close-ups of the quilting.  I modified the photo to protect my friend’s privacy.

The One with a Real Longarm in the House

Last weekend I enjoyed two full days of training on my Innova 18.  Virginia Longarm Network (VLN) did a great job with the schedule, and the pace, and the mix of sitting versus standing activities.  I learned so much that I was able to fix a problem that occurred on the first day my longarm was in the house.

My machine was delivered on Thursday, September 8th.  My delivery and installation was performed by Greg from VLN.  We joked about him being more popular than Santa Claus when he shows up to deliver these quilting machines.  He patiently answered my questions and let me watch him for about 4 hours while he set everything up.  Then he put a test sandwich together and showed me very basically how to run the machine.  But, he warned me that they don’t usually like to deliver machines before the training because the customer runs into a problem and calls the shop in a panic that very first day.  I assured Greg that I had some shopping to do and since my new owner’s class would start the very next day, I would not mess with the machine.  That was a bold-faced lie!


After he left, I really did go shopping.  I swear!  I bought a white board for my longarm studio, and some little waste baskets, and some Velcro to attach my channel lock remote control to the top of my machine, plus I bought some clothes.  By the time I got done, it was time to fix dinner.  The plan was to make Mongolian Beef in the new Instant Pot.  While I was out and about, I strongly considered stopping to buy Chinese take-out, but I would have gotten home with it too early, so I forced myself to “be good” and go home and cook.  Big Mistake!  The pot wouldn’t seal so there was no pressure cooking going on and we had to cook the old fashioned way on the stove.  (By the way, we tried the pot again on Sunday and it worked fine so we chalked it up to user error).

Well, by about 7 pm I was just itching to go up to the studio and try my hand at making some designs.  I did a few straight and curvy lines until it started getting late (my bedtime is 9 o’clock, so I really hadn’t been working that long).  I tried to make a feather and broke my thread.  I re-threaded the needle and tried again.  Two stitches—broken thread.  Well, this went on for nearly an hour!  So I decided to go to bed, and hope that I would learn the secret in my class for new owners.

In training on Friday, we got a list of must-haves and should-haves for our quilting rooms.  We learned some ergonomic tips, and then we learned how to thread our machines.  We practiced.  We learned how to fill a bobbin and test the tension.  We practiced.  We learned how to adjust the upper tension and we practiced.  We learned how to use zippers to attach our quilts to our leaders.  By the end of the day, we were quilting just a little but we were capable of threading the machine, by golly.  I was worn out, so I decided that rather than try messing with my machine that night, I would get up early on Saturday to do it.

Saturday morning I was awake by 4 am just waiting to go up to that room and thread that machine.  I got up at 5, had some coffee and breakfast, and by 6:30 am I had that machine purring.  Now, I don’t know about your sewing and quilting machines, but I have found that mine works best if you thread the take-up lever!  Here’s what happened:  the first time my thread snapped, it popped out of the take-up lever.  I was threading all the thread guides but missing the lever, so of course I could only go a stitch or two before breaking thread.

Fresh from my success in threading my machine, I headed back to class for Saturday’s session.  We learned many different patterns to try quilting, and we practiced.  We threaded our machines and set the tension again.  We were challenged to go home and quilt real quilts, not practice sandwiches on muslin.  Before Greg arrived on Thursday to install my machine, I spent my time making big muslin squares for practice, and making some frankenbatting (old pieces of batting stuck together with fusible tape).  All that time wasted!

I woke up on Sunday with one objective:  to be able to load a small quilt and start quilting it.  There were two obstacles in my way. First, I didn’t have a small quilt ready, and second, I needed to sew the zippers onto my leaders.  I tackled the first obstacle by using some cute flannel animal print as a whole cloth crib quilt.

The second obstacle was a bit more complicated.  Using zippers on your leaders makes a lot of sense.  You can pin the zipper to the top and bottom of your backing, and then quickly zip it to the longarm.  If you need to take one quilt off and put another one on, you just unzip (this presumes you have more than one set of zippers so I will need another set soon).  Since my leaders didn’t come with the zippers attached, I had to find a You Tube video showing me how to do it.

What you do is pin your leaders together so they can be pulled taut. Then you use the longarm machine just like a sewing machine to stitch down your zipper, after you have centered it on the leader.  You stitch one zipper to the take up leader and one zipper to the bottom leader.  But, you only stitch ½ of the zipper, so that the other half can be zipped off to attach to your quilt bottom.

My problem will come as no shock to people who have seen me holding up my hands with thumb and forefinger to figure out which way is left (your left hand makes an “L”).  Yes, that’s right, I have no sense of direction, and no clue when it comes to making physical things match up.  So, I sewed the zipper to the leader on the take-up bar just fine.  Then on the lower bar, I attached the top of the zipper instead of the bottom.

The quilt is up here


I sewed this part of the zipper to the leader


This is the part I should have attached


Fortunately, I realized that it would be relatively easy to stitch the part of the zipper that I should have stitched, if I did it before I got out my seam ripper to remove the unwanted stitches.  So, I managed to get the zippers sewn on correctly and load my little baby quilt.


There’s a lot more fun in store for me now as I continue to practice!

And today, Karl attached my cranks to make it easier to roll the quilt forward and back.







The One Where Ginger Bites the Dust

No wonder quilting is right up there with golf as the most expensive hobby. How often do the driver and the sand wedge need to go into the shop for service?  When I first started quilting, I was using this Singer Classic machine.

Classic Mojo
My cat Mojo

Soon, I decided that I needed a better option for quilting.  I did some research, and decided to get a Singer 9970 machine.  That was February, 2014—my Valentine’s Day present.  At that time, the reviews on Amazon about the machine were very good.  I did hear some negatives about how Singer had changed, and wasn’t reliable, but I really didn’t know of another brand to buy, so I went with the Singer.  When I checked Amazon again today before writing this post, there is only one review, and it is a “1”.

I named her Ginger (Gilligan’s Island), because she was presumed to be gorgeous but maybe wasn’t all she was cracked up to be.  Product_thumb-7ad4397449cdc6d31f36f84ebdf991a7a2b93c31She and I finished several quilts and learned Free Motion Quilting.  She came with all these feet and more.  Most I never used, but I dreamed of using the fancy trim foot and the cording foot.  The opportunity never arose.




Last year, after working on several quilts with Ginger, I decided to get a better machine for quilting.  Although I considered a sit-down longarm like the HandiQuilter Sweet Sixteen, in the end I couldn’t justify the price, so I purchased a Juki TL 2010Q.  The Juki has been a dream for quilting.  I named her Ellie May (because she’s beautiful and strong but not fancy).  You see, I am a product of the television shows I watched as a kid.  Heaven help us when the Beavis and Butthead generation takes over the world!  I will do a separate post on Ellie May later.  Mainly, what you need to know about her, is that she is a straight stitch only machine, so whenever a zigzag or fancy stitch is called for, I rely on Ginger.

Poor Ginger has been to the repair shop many times.  She usually has a nervous breakdown just as I’m nearing some kind of quilting deadline (like Christmas).  This year, I started an applique Block of the Month for which I needed a pretty satin stitch, and I began work on a queen sized double wedding ring quilt with applique on the borders.  Everything was great fun until I started to hear a crunching sound coming from the bobbin case…and a needle broke for no apparent reason.  I packed her up and my helpful spouse took her to the shop for what would turn out to be…dun, dun, dun….her last car ride.

The Bad News:   By now you’ve guessed that I got the call we all dread,   “Ma’am, we can try to save her, but we’re not sure the cost is worth it.  Why don’t you come in and take a look at the new machines we have here in the store.”  To fix her would cost half what I paid for her.  With two projects going that require applique stitches, I cannot afford to do without a machine.  I really feel like I am saying goodbye forever to a friend.  I had such high hopes when I bought her.  She and I did some good work together.  Watching her do fancy stitches was great fun.  I had the ability to set her up to do a tack stitch at the beginning and end of applique.  Plus, she had a mirror function that was fabulous when the quilt was large (did I mention that I am doing a queen sized double wedding ring with applique on the borders?).  When I didn’t have room to turn the quilt around to stitch a whole leaf or flower petal, I could tie off, set the mirror function, and start again at the top of the leaf on the other side.  So, there was much sadness here, and also the question, “how do I tell Karl I need a new sewing machine?”

Tune in next week to find out who will replace Ginger and join Ellie May in the Zapf Sewing Studio.  Did Denise have to sleep in the doghouse?  Will the new machine have a mirror stitch? We will see.

The One Where Karl Lost His Man Cave

Sometimes a room takes years to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up.  We have just such a room.  Years ago, we added an attached garage to our home, and used the space above to build two additional rooms.  One room is the exercise room, and it is happy with its career choice, even though sometimes it doubles as a clothes dryer.

The media room, however, has never been completely right.  We have a built in shelving system to hold the cable box, AV receiver, DVD player,  etc. and the room is wired for seven channel surround sound.  We painted the walls a dark color, to enhance the mood for watching movies.  We planned to put the large television up here, and only keep a small t.v. in the main house for watching the news, etc.  We tried, and for a time we really did remove ourselves to the media room each night after dinner to watch in comfort and immerse ourselves in sound.

media room

As time went on, there were more and more nights when we just didn’t move from the living room after dinner.  It was much easier to let the dogs outside from the living room. Lightning struck more than once and ruined the cable box, and then the sub-woofer.  We gave into temptation and bought a nicer television for the living room.  This was during the time when the large tube technology was making way for the new flat screen televisions.  The media room had a huge Sony television weighing hundreds of pounds.  In the living room we now had a flat screen HDTV.  We put surround sound in the living room too.

For a time, the media room became a game room.  Our son would have friends sleep over, and they would do sleeping bags on the floor in the media room. That huge tv had a front video input, so the kids would bring their gaming systems and play all night.  Do you know why they call it a bonus room?  Because the bonus for us was that the room was in a completely separate wing of the house and we couldn’t hear all the noise!

Kids grow up and stop having sleepovers, so the room was used less and less.  Periodically, my husband Karl would go up there and put music on.  He could sit in his chair in the middle of the room and enjoy the surround sound and solitude.  But he was only up there a few times a year for music.  I used the floor to baste some quilts, and to block a quilt.  But the room was not being used much at all.

When I decided to buy a longarm, we measured my sewing room and determined that a longarm would fit, but everything else would have to go.  Not good.  We measured the master bedroom, and everything would fit in there, but that was a sacrifice I wasn’t willing to make.  Then we measured the media room and sure enough, the longarm will fit.  I expect there will be a story about getting the pieces up there, what with the 90 degree angle on the stairway.

Once the decision was made, Karl gave way gracefully and really embraced the idea of my new business.  So I decided to paint!  Here is the old color (yellow):

Old Color

And here are some photos of the room in progress:

New Color 3New Color 2


You see that TV?  That is the one from the living room that usurped the big Sony’s place in our hearts.  Now it is banished to the longarm studio where it will serve the purpose of playing quilting DVDs for me to learn from.

Next up…a new 4 foot daylight fluorescent light fixture.  I’ll post an update when the room is done and the light fixture is in place.  For now, I need to go check on Karl’s progress with the paint.