Sunday, October 18, 2015

Never Stop Learning

I bought my Tin Lizzie 18 back in 2008 (I think...) because, like a lot of quilters, I really like making quilt tops but don't like to hand quilt. So, I finally got past the rigid notion that to be authentic, quilts had to be hand-quilted and started hiring machine quilters to finish that part of the process. 

Well, that was going pretty good. There was usually a waiting line to queue in before the quilt even got into the building. Then there was the waiting in line to get the top ON the machine. After that, it went very quickly. A good machine quite is in high demand, and no mistake. These people are artists and I bow down to any one of them who are willing to take this on as a profession.

But, at this point in time, I still had about 10-12 quilts in my closet that needed quilting and I did the math. I could buy a machine and learn to do it myself for only $15,000 more than it would cost me to have this dozen get done by someone who knows what the hell she's doing. Heck, (I told myself) and think of all the driving I won't be doing. (ha)

So, I dropped down into that rabbit-hole called research and went about test-driving all the available quilting machines and settled on the Tin Lizzie. Slightly less expensive than a used car, but much cheaper than a Gammill, the Tin Lizzie 18 even came with a stitch regulator which is a must for when you are learning how to machine quilt. At this point in time, I only use that with rulers and straight lines.

It's a pretty basic machine, no computer so everything is hand-guided all the way. I like that simple aspect. I have modified as much as possible by removing the original lamp which only gave light on one side of the machine and adding two LED lamps. It doesn't get nearly as hot now standing there next to it and I illuminate a larger space. This machine goes in all directions so it's a good thing to be able to see where I'm going as much as possible!

Today, if I had to do it all over again, I think I would cough up the extra money and get one with a computer-driven device as well. It just adds an extra layer of possibilities to your quilting and frankly, learning how to use computers is exciting.

Never Stop Learning.

Which brings me to to today's topic: Learning New Tricks

After learning the basic stitches like puzzle pieces and loop-de-loops, I began mastering what I think if as Dr Seuss Ivy Hearts, my "signature design". This showed up in nearly all of my quilts because it covered a lot of area and could meander in any direction.

Then came paisley. Talk about fun! I used this an over-all pattern on quilts that needed no attention to outer border, which at this point in time I avoided. Until there came a time when I knew I had to step up to the plate and learn how to feather. 

All of this took about 2 years. "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" practice... and then some. But it should always be fun. If it doesn't start or end with fun, what are we doing?!

Feathering on a quilt, IMHO, accomplished two major tasks: 1. It covers a lot of space somewhat uniformly and 2. it looks like heritage craftsmanship. So, it is vital to learn how to feather without stress, in all directions and shapes.

Now, after quilting for 6+ years and understanding the limitations of my particular machine, I was at a place where I wanted to push out of my comfort-zone and try to add a different dimension to my quilting. After all, the quilts themselves had taken a turn towards the Modern Quilt look, with more open spaces in which to embellish with free-motion quilting.

I began by exploring with Leah Day and taking on more filler designs like wavy water, pebbles, swirls, etc. These can create that 'quilted to death' appearance if you go over-board with them but they really add a layer of texture to a quilt when used in an appropriate area.

When I approach a new quilt-top, I browse my sketchbook of ideas or the internet looking for something exciting I have not used before. Every new quilt is a great opportunity to add to the repertoire of designs. This is how I stumbled upon Judi Madsen, the Green Fairy quilt queen. You want to talk about taking quilting to a new level? She's in a stratosphere all her own.

I watched many of her video tutorials to understand how she develops her designs on the quilt as she goes and this made such a difference in what could be possible. She also took the worry of marking pens away. She is fearless with that little purple pen!

So, I ordered her green ruler, marking pens, acrylic circles as guides and set off to learn how mark and quilt in open spaces without a masterplan but rather an idea in my head. I sort like flying by the seat of pants when it comes to quilting. And I don't mind taking stitches out when something looks terrible.

Here is my first attempt on a GRAND scale. There is more (much more) to come.

Thank you Leah and Judi... seriously.


Kathy said...

I have been thinking about your blog this morning and decided to check in. Creepy. How did I know that there was so much to read. Thank you. It helps missing you a little more bearable. Also, thanks for the inspiration.

Cats and Quilts said...

HEY!!! good morning! Thanks for checking in. But I rather think, driving through our beautiful country and discovering new bakeries is pretty damn good stuff, right there.

When you get back and settled, (sometime around March)(hehe) we'll rig your machine up and you'll be driving that baby.

Take photos!