Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays to all, may you find peace and joy this time of year, and have a New Year that is filled with your heart's desires.

We are shoveling out once again here in Wisconsin, USA, staying home and thinking of the friends and loved ones who have so blessed our lives.

Thanks to all of you in quilt-land for being there, and I wish you all the happiest of holidays.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Some December Tips

Back in 1999 Arnie helped me finish October Morning. Now he is a creaky 17+ (who really knows?) years old and this quilt has been in the National Quilt Museum for 9 years, but it seems like this was only a year ago, tops. Time does funny things as you get older.
Today my guest blog appears at Hope you enjoy it.
While I was quilting and trying out some new ideas in small piece yesterday I decided to post a few tips for you this December when our lives are so hectic and busy. Hope they help a bit, and you can all relax and take some time for yourself and for your quilting.
  • Always try and warm up a little before quilting on the actual quilt each day. Just a few stitches, wake up your muscle memory, get the feel of it, try out a design. Get with the flow.
  • The "thread pathway" is often the cause of so many troubles. If thread winds around the spindle, gets caught on the thread spool's top or bottom or little notch, falls out of a guide or tensioning device, disaster happens. Broken threads and/or needles, skipped stitches, snarls, bad tension--all can be results of problems threading the machine. Re-thread carefully, consult your owner's manual if you are unsure of where that thread should go. Then, with the presser foot UP, gently pull on the thread to make sure it goes through smoothly, no catches or stops, and that the needle doesn't bend. Then you can proceed to try out some stitching.
  • Magnifiers are fabulous for close work, but can be a bit of a hindrance for larger designs. You need to see the "field" when quilting a larger size design and especially a freehand design. You need to see the "big picture" and not focus on individual stitches. Don't focus on the area right around the needle, but look ahead and aim for that point, keeping hands and machine speed coordinated, not moving hands too fast. The quilting will flow beautifully, be smooth and beautiful.
  • If you like a quilting design you have done so frequently you could now do it in your sleep, try modifying it somehow to get something in the same style but with a different look. Recently I did this with my basic echo feathers and came up with something that is fresh, easy, and a nice alternative for areas where I would have quilted feathers before.
  • Always keep an eye out for new ideas in textures. Look around you, sketch, doodle, draw, take photos of interesting textures that could easily be tweaked and turned into machine quilting designs.
  • Clean and oil your machine (if oil-able) regularly, and take it in for its scheduled check-ups. I always think nope, doesn't need a thing, just fine thank you, and when I get it home again I am amazed at how fabulous it has become in the hands of my trusty technician.
  • Try a new color, fabric, or thread, or both. Add some spicy orange to your fabric selection, or deep teal or purple, or a pastel to soften your brighter hues, something pink maybe. Yellow! Put colors together you never before considered. A new year is coming; time for some changes.
  • I like to take a short break between techniques that are totally different. If I am quilting marked lines and then want to do some freehand work, I take a break before beginning. They are such different techniques it gives my concentration and focus a "refresh" before beginning the next one.
  • Start a trend, don't follow them in quilting. Be your own leader.

Keep quilting, stay warm, your work gets better every day!


Thursday, December 10, 2009


The weather people were finally right; we did get hit by a huge storm here in Wisconsin, tons of snow, bitter cold today, and drifts everywhere. I am staying in. My sewing room is cozy and bright and I can work on some samples for next year's classes while I ponder fabrics lying here and there, needing to go in some wonderful project. I ponder too much, quilt not nearly enough lately.

Most of my holiday shopping is done, and one of the things I chose for a gift for a quilter is the book, below, by Robert Shaw, American Quilts, The Democratic Art, 1780 - 2007.

This is my favorite type of "quilt" book - filled with gorgeous photos, detailed description and commentary, it takes you from the early beginnings of quilting in this country all the way up through 2007, encompassing all styles, trends, major breakthrough quilts over those years.
I like to keep it next to my chair so when I sit down for a break I can pick it up and read a bit here and there. I am always instantly engrossed, and always learn something new. Even if you only turn the pages and take in the glory of these quilts it is worth having.
It was an honor to have the author, Robert Shaw, include one of my quilts in this book, "Through a Glass Darkly: An American Memory." Below is the book opened to "my" page. When I wrote on this blog about traditional quilts and their place in history and in modern quilting as well I hadn't seen this book yet. Now it is there, one of my quilts, with modern art quilts, with traditional very old quilts, all in a continuum from early days to the art movement in recent times. It fits in so well, and I am so pleased to have been included in this spectacular book.

Hope your December is going well; keep quilting, your work gets better every day!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

This and That

The leaves, above, are printed on a sheer crinkly fabric that I placed on black so the design would show more clearly. I like it. It is an old blouse I never wear, and while I was packing it up for a donation box I loved the great leaves.

I am always noticing quilting motifs in everything, and with some tweaking this one would be great. Now, to sit at my machine and play with this a bit. It might make it, or it might end up on the cutting room floor.

I've had so many emails about silk thread and how to make it work in various machines. Usually it's wise to lower the top tension a bit, maybe a lot, and use a fine cotton in the bobbin and it will work very well. Do a small adjustment at a time, maybe half a stop, so if it is set at 4, go to 3 1/2 and quilt a bit and see what it looks like. Sometimes it needs to go much lower, depending on the machine. Always check the back stitches and the tension there too.

In my last class we had two machines that had very loose bobbin tension. If I held the bobbin case up by the thread it fell. It should feel like it is going to fall to the floor but doesn't. We adjusted the bobbin tension, a bit at a time, until it felt right, then tried it in the machine. Success! Perfect stitch.

There was one that was incredibly tight, and we loosened it and it worked perfectly afterwards.

If you have "fear of bobbin tension" syndrome, and are concerned about adjusting it yourself, take it in for a little field trip to your dealer if possible and have them show you, check it, get the right information.

I have used #100 silk thread by YLI on several models of Berninas and they all take it a bit differently, but in the end, perfectly. In my last teaching trip to Phat Quarters in Galena, IL I used a new Bernina 730 and it worked absolutely perfectly at the default upper tension setting with silk in the bobbin as well. Once you get the hang of how your machine and your thread get along you will know exactly what to do, and have great success, and great confidence.

And don't forget your technician at your dealer. They see it all, know so much, and have a direct link to the mother ship.

Exciting news! I finally twisted Ann Fahl's arm and she has begun a blog. Ann is an accomplished award-winning machine quilter and art quilter who will have many thoughts and tips to share with you. I love her advice about color in her first post, and agree totally. I know I will enjoy reading her blog with my morning coffee. Her blog is

Let's welcome her to the blogosphere!

Keep quilting, your work gets better every day!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Arnie is already practicing sleeping off the Thanksgiving turkey on his special wild animal pillows. We will be next.

I wish all of you a very happy Thanksgiving, with much to be grateful for, blessings that abound. I thank all of you especially for enriching my life and giving me so much more back than I give to you.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tension and Stitch Length!

More information arrives from quilters who are dealing with new, electronic machines. Mercy recently explained her tweaking with the Bernina830 and silk thread, and she reports now that if the stitch length is set at "0," the thread tension on top gets very tight.

I have noticed on some Bernina 440's that when the BSR is used, the tension gets tighter than if a normal free motion foot is used, but of course can be adjusted down so a proper stitch is achieved.

Many things can affect the thread tension on top, even the humidity or color of thread. Dark threads may need a slightly different top tension than ecru, in the exact same thread.

In my first book, Guide to Machine Quilting, I suggested setting the stitch length to zero if you drop the feed dogs and free motion quilt. This was back in the Dark Ages when I used a mechanical machine, no brains, no sensors. Now I don't even think about doing that because my machine knows if I lower the feed dogs I don't NEED stitch length and allows them to rest comfortably in the basement, not moving at all. So I never touch that stitch length dial when the dogs are down.

On the Bernina 830 Mercy found that if she did use the zero stitch length the top tension became way too tight. If you own this machine, don't change the stitch length at all when the dogs are lowered.

All things are interconnected. Be aware.

Hope you are not slaving away too hard here in the US where we have our big Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. I am hoping to get in an hour or so of quilting today on some ideas I've had before I forget them, and take a break from cleaning and polishing, shopping for food, cooking.

Keep quilting! Your work gets better every day.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Silk Thread on Bernina 830

Note:  Updated info I've received tells me that Bernina dealers/technicians are trained and  can help your 830 handle fine threads like #100 silk.  The newer machines have been updated as well.  If you have any issues at all, contact your technician. 

Machine quilting with YLI #100 silk thread is beautiful, exquisite. Sometimes though we have to adjust the machine to get the best result, and all machines get along with this thread a bit differently. Recently I heard from Mercy, one of my advanced students, at that she is the proud new owner of a Bernina 830, and has been trying to quilt with silk that was so successful in her other Berninas, as it is in all of mine (200, 730, and new 630).

After having problems, bad tension mostly, she and her technician and folks at the mother ship Bernina discovered some tips that will help you with this thread if you have this new machine. These tips might help you even if you have a different brand electronic machine with sensors.

Mercy wrote:

"First tip - the machine is soooo smart and the thread is soooo thin that for the most part it thinks there is no thread in the machine. Well, the machine is programmed to NOT sew if it is not threaded. If you reset the machine to allow it to sew without thread, then you lose all the other features like low bobbin warning, etc.

To resolve this, hold the thread tightly with your right hand as it leaves the spool and then thread the machine with your left hand. The little extra pressure is all you need for the thread to register on the sensors. Once registered, it will be fine until you need to rethread the machine.

Second tip - for silk and decorative threads it is critical to keep the machine well oiled. I usually clean and oil my 440 whenever I refill the bobbin thread. However, this machine's bobbin has a much larger capacity - more than double - and the silk is so thin you can sew for quite awhile before you run out of bobbin thread. You must stop and force yourself to do maintenance based on sewing TIME even if you do not need to replenish bobbin thread.

Third tip - the tension has to be PERFECT. If it is just a LITTLE bit off then the top will loop or eyelash just a bit every 5th or 6th stitch. If it is off by any more than just a little bit then the bobbin thread does not come up at all and the top thread breaks."

Thanks so much Mercy! I think this advice might work too with this machine and YLI Wonder Monofilament thread.

It is terrific when quilters send me vital information like this so I can share it here, and you can discover yourself what works best in your own machine and situation, and of course, always contact your dealer if you have problems or need advice. If any of you have more information, please share via the Comments.

Susan sent me the comment that there is a special/extra guide behine/under the white device that comes out to thread the machine. It's supposed to be used for fine or slippery threads to help the threading process. Bernina technicians know about this guide.

I agree about the maintenance based on time, rather than only when the bobbin thread runs out. I clean and oil the hook and bobbin area every day I quilt right at the beginning of my session. If I quilt steadily for 3 hours, I do it again.

Silk thread leaves a bit of a waxy debris in your machine so it is vital to clean it, and a bit of oil is also good. Check the top thread pathway as well, and swab out any sticky linty stuff that remains.

Run the machine, with no thread in it, quite slowly at first and perhaps more gunk will surface and you can swab that out gently with a cotton swab. Finally, run a clean dry swab over the metal parts in the bobbin/hook area to get any leftover oil, thread the machine, run it slowly and quilt with it on a sample to work out any leftover oil. I love this time as this is when I play and come up with exciting new ideas for designs.

Be very light handed and careful when cleaning/oiling your machine. Follow your technician's advice and check your owner's manual. My Berninas hum, and keep humming, and I take great care of them so that they do.

Keep quilting! It works out the oil.....and keeps your quilting zen going strong.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sparkle Spirals

Spirals with Sparkle, YLI #100 silk plus metallic = Sparkle thread. It gives a soft shine, little twinkles of light. Nice for upcoming holiday quilting.

The design, above, is on muslin and was done with a #80 Top Stitch needle and worked perfectly in my Benina 730, tension on top set at 2.50. The thread was ecru with gold metallic. Stitch length an estimated 1.6. Of course in free motion you make your own stitch length.

I wanted to give you a better sample than the one from the post yesterday, so here it is. I ended up playing at my machine all afternoon, and have some lovely new samples for classes.

Keep quilting, your work gets better every day!

Monday, November 16, 2009


Sparkle! This is a new thread from YLI that combines my fave #100 silk thread with a strand of metallic, giving subtle specks of bling in your quilting. I like it so much better than metallic and it is a great new tool to add to your arsenal for that place in your quilting that just "needs something special."

I used it with my usual Microtex Sharp needle, a bit larger, a #70, but if it frays try a needle made for metallic thread. I also loosened my top tension a bit more than with plain #100 silk, and used YLI #100 silk thread in the bobbin. I had no problems at all quilting with it, just went a bit slower than I usually do on a speedy design like "Bouncing Bananas." It's fun watching something sort of boring turn into glamour right before your eyes.

Later I tried a #80 Topstitch needle and it worked better, no fraying at all. The thread fed through the machine easily and perfectly.

I mentioned it in my new listing of Tips on my web site today, so thought I would add more here. I haven't used this thread in a quilt yet but yes, even I, who never ever adds sparkly anything to my quilts, might consider this thread here and there. It comes in a variety of tones, cool silvery ones, and warm golden ones to a deep taupe with gold I used on the green fabric in the sample. Mud with Bling!! Hurray!

Try some quilting today in between "the other stuff" you have to do....experiment!

Keep quilting,

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Classes at Phat Quarters

Main Street in Galena, IL this week was beautiful, a step back in time but had shops and restaurants that were cutting edge, a nice contrast in old and new. I stayed at the beautiful DeSoto House Hotel, built in 1855, and that too was a step back in time. The rooms had very high ceilings and period decor, but yet were simple and comfy. I slept well, and left my cares at the door.

Classes at Phat Quarters Quilt Shop, just around the corner from the huge hotel, and across from the post office, the oldest functioning one in the country, went very well. It was a full house, students squeezed themselves in, but stayed cheerful and eager to learn some free motion skills. Beginners went from nervous to confident and at least to me seemed to have a good time and relax and enjoy machine quilting. I think everyone improved, and the results were very gratifying.

So much was covered in 2 1/2 days of class, and I think it's a great start to getting some of those stacks of quilt tops finished, by yourself, not by another quilter. With a few basic designs, knowledge to adjust the machine stitch so it looks perfect, having even, consistent stitches, and the right thread color and weight, success is right around the corner.

Jane, the owner, treated me one night to fabulous thin crust pizza at a little Italian restaurant down a few blocks from the hotel. It was heaven. I think I ummmmmed out loud there for a moment at my first bite!

There were quilters from out of the area who flew in for the classes and met some midwesterners on their turf. The weather was lovely, warm for November and no rain or snow. This little town is one of the prettiest historic locations, so if you plan on coming, take some time for the shops, historic tours, and restaurants, plus of course the great quilt shop.

I learned some new things from my students and demos that I did on the amazing Bernina 730, and hope to get some new samples made for future classes.

Below, the post office and behind it is where the quilt shop is, the back of my hotel to the right. The town is built on river bluffs, and you can see the very very steep steps carved into the rock hill that go straight up to High St. behind Main. No, I did not climb them! Below that, more photos of the DeSoto House Hotel. Many Civil War figures played their role in Galena's history and stayed at the hotel, including Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, and you can tour Ulysses S. Grant's home.

More tips on my website as soon as my old laptop can crank itself up, and more info on this blog soon. I have many new tips after working with students in class, fielding questions, and explaining things that I do in my quilting.
My best advice is to work on a real top. Try something not too huge for starters, perhaps a small lap quilt, baby quilt, large wall quilt so you don't feel overwhelmed. Then stabilize it with ditch quilting first, break it down into areas to be quilted, work from the outside in when possible, and do the smallest scale quilting last.
Don't jump around between techniques, but try and do the same styles of quilting and then switch to a different one. For example, quilt all the feathers, then add the pearls in the spines. Then do the backgrounds. This really helps build skill.
Take breaks. Re-boot that mental computer you are using, and don't think you are chained to that sewing machine. Machine quilting takes intense focus and concentration even if it looks very easy when you watch it being done.
Strive for quality, not just speed in machine quilting. Be careful with stops and starts and loose threads. Do your best. You will be happier and your quilt will show your effort.
Keep quilting! Your work gets better every day.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Trip to Galena IL

I am packing and organizing, scheming and planning for my upcoming trip next Monday-Thursday at Phat Quarters Quilt Shop, in historic Galena, IL. I won't be blogging for awhile but soon I will be back to giving you some info and inspiration. Tips on my website will be posted when I return if I don't get to them this weekend.

Monday night is the lecture on "Quilting Designs" at the shop, and then classes the rest of the week.

If you are in my classes, make sure your machines are working well, as there is nothing, but nothing, that holds up a class more than machine issues.

If it's a brand new machine or if you are a bit fuzzy on your old friend of a machine please take some time this weekend to get really familiar with the basic things we'll be using: adjusting thread tension, threading it properly, using the BSR on a Bernina if you choose that, dropping feed dogs, winding and inserting the bobbin correctly, and just finding where these things are on your particular machine.

Machines do marvelous things for us but we have to take the time to learn where everything is amid all the electronics. Bring your owner's manual if you are unsure. Make some cheater post-it notes and stick them here and there with crucial information. Do a bit of quilting at home and make sure the machine is working ok, not skipping stitches, snarling, barking, whatever.

It's not necessary to bring a compass - I'll have some circle templates for you to use.

If you have any questions please email me:

The most important sewing machine accessory to bring? An open-toe free motion foot. Not the applique foot, but a foot made expressly for free motion and for your brand and model. This goes for all my upcoming classes. Remember, you can easily modify an existing closed-toe foot by cutting out the bar across the front, giving you great visibility for the kind of quilting we'll be doing.

We will learn and have some fun and you will fine tune your free motion skills.

See you in Galena,

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tote Bag

Here is a better photo of my tote bag from Eleanor Levie's new book, I marked the center design that is one of the digitized ones included on the new Bernina 830, and added freehand motifs areound it to fill the space. It is fun to start with something marked, and then add freehand images to that, takes some of the fear out of sitting down to blank space if you've never done that before.

You can also sketch in some guidelines, the centers or outer edges of the feathers, e.g., to help you quilt and stay in control and be less fearful of what you are doing, where you are going. If you break this down into do-able parts, one thing at a time, it is not hard at all, and the finished "bouquet" of designs is very pretty, graceful, and YOU. Add motifs you love, throw in something unexpected.

A stencil design in the center works great for starters, and more can be added. Tuck some freehand leaves in here and there or feathers, spirals, circles, whatever you like. Even a frond with large-to-small traced circles around a center vein looks great.

The idea is to play at your machine, always using the best materials--threads, fabrics, batts, new needle, fresh machine with oil here and there and no lint. Your work will improve if you use the best tools. Your machine should hum, not chatter. Thread every guide. Check your tension. Get it right.

If you want to make one long rectangle and quilt it, you can add a lining, sew it around most of the perimeter, and turn it inside out and make a small clutch bag. These are all good ways to use a play-at-the-machine sandwich and turn it into something wonderful. They make great gifts too.

Enjoy, and keep quilting; your work really should be getting better every day!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What's Your Bag?

In this time of trying to be more “green,” Eleanor Levie has written a fun book featuring tote/grocery bags you make and use instead of disposable paper or plastic. She asked celebrity quilters to join her and create a bag in their signature styles for the book. There are some real icons of quilting in this book, including Jean Ray Laury, Virginia Avery, Kaffe Fassett and Liza Prior Lucy, Rachel Clark, Jane Sassaman, Lonni Rossi, Karen Eckmeier, Judy Hooworth, Susan Shie, and Eleanor Levie.

Last winter during the depths of snowstorms every other day, howling winds, and cold weather I stayed at home and worked on my bag for Eleanor and her book. It was totally fun, no stress, a simple project that would showcase some of my quilting.

I chose some beautiful sky blue fabrics hand dyed by Sharon Anderson who was in one of my classes and generously gifted me with a packet of her fabrics, after I drooled all over hers. It was February and somehow blue was the color I wanted to quilt, sans drool of course.

My bag, shown in the photo above, is very simple, two whole-cloth quilted squares joined together by a quilted panel, with two detachable handles made from curtain tie-backs and antique buttons. I loved how the fabric quilted, enjoyed the soft blue silk threads I used, and tried out some new designs. It is a great way to work on your quilting with no stress of “ruining” a quilt top.

Pick some great fabric and go for it! It’s time you made something instead of practicing. Make some of the various designs in the book for your friends, your family, for gifts, whatever. I’m sure no one will notice one stitch a bit larger than the others, a strange looking feather, lines that are not perfect. It will give you confidence and get you back to quilting.

The bags in the book range from more complex like mine to fun and fast and easy, but they are all wonderful. Most of them have space where you could practice some of your free motion skills – tuck in a feather by the beets, or on a carrot. I have to admit I especially like Rachel Clark’s Cherrywood Jelly Roll tote – it’s gorgeous! There's even one by Jane Sassaman for your bicycle basket. There are ideas and styles everyone will like, plus tips on customizing the bags for you and what you need.

To order the book, go to: where you can see Eleanor and the book, and go to the books page to order with check or PayPal. I hope I see lots of great new totes on the arms of quilters, inspired by this book.

Keep quilting! Your work gets better every day.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Home from Green Bay

Green Bay, Wisconsin, was lovely! The drive north through the rolling hills of the southern Kettle Moraine was almost at peak fall color, absolutely glorious. Stunning sugar maples were torches of flame amid the darker pines and oaks, and the sumac blazed in scarlet glory. The bright intense blue of the October sky was the perfect backdrop. We do have some bad winter weather here at times, but fall is the season that makes up for everything.

Thanks to everyone from Evergreen Quilt Guild for making my visit go so well, and to the big crowd at the lecture for being such a great audience. I hope you do go out and buy more mud fabric for your quilts, although from your show and tell quilts I can see this won't be an issue!
Class was in a large room, above, and everyone worked hard at their feather designs. Machine quilting on a home machine is not the easiest thing in the world, and there is much to learn and enjoy in the world of feathers. Start with the basics, get those feathers smooth and familiar, and then start branching out to make your designs more intricate. It takes focus and concentration, and frequent short breaks so the feathers don't deteriorate and become the proverbial toxic vegetables, tongue depressors, or stubby protrusions. And don't go around the Q-tip.
I think everyone did great with much good humor and of course things will go much better at home, but you do have to put in some time, add feathers to a real quilt, don't sit and practice.

My nemesis in the world of snack/junk food was lurking behind my table for hours before I noticed it, beckoning me, luring me in with the siren call of cheese and crunch, mmmmmmm. Cheetos!!! I ate only TWO and stayed clear of this temptation. When I arrived home that evening my husband had a brand new bag of them on the kitchen island waiting, as a treat for me when he knew I'd be tired out. Oh no..........
Keep quilting; your work does really really get better every day!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Green Bay Lecture - Mud!

"Kettle Moraine Star," above, back in 1996 brought attention to my love of dull, neutral, "ugly" colors in my quilts. The background was the shade of khaki used in pants, and was not at all popular back in the 90's (or probably now too, come to think of it) for quilts. I wanted a background color to showcase the star, and khaki was one of my favorite colors, so I used it fearlessly, with little thought about how others might like it...or not like it as it turned out. I liked it a lot.

I still use colors that others deem ugly and fit for the sale rack at the back of the store, but have graduated to including more percentage of brighter, more vibrant shades in my quilts. However, that first winning quilt gave me the claim to fame for my "Mud Quilts" that still is with me.

Tuesday night, October 13, I'll be giving a lecture on this subject in Green Bay, WI. at 6:30 p.m., Grace Lutheran church, 321 S. Madison in Green Bay. Hope to see some of you there! I won't have this quilt, but some of my work for you to see up close.

Below, my claim to fame has lingered on with my car's license plate, which seemed a good idea at the time, but after all the puzzled glances, high fives from mud covered pickup trucks on the highway, and even a query from a bird lover about the species Mud Owls, I wonder just why I ever did this. A weak moment I think.

Keep quilting, your work gets better every day!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Traditional Quilts?

I fell in love with traditional quilts from the very first. Not orchestrated modern traditional ones where every fabric coordinates perfectly, but quilts that worked within the framework of traditional and showcased the maker’s artistic skills and joie de vivre.

I admired but was not really inspired by most quilts shown locally in the 70’s and 80’s. After going to many shows, I finally found ones that made my heart skip a beat when exhibits featuring quality vintage quilts began to appear, and I discovered books filled with quilts from other eras. These quilts really rocked. They had exuberance, color, design excitement, whimsy, simplicity and elegance, all more or less within the “rules” of quilting.

That is not an easy accomplishment for a quilter. Those “other” qualities can sometimes suffer because a quiltmaker is so intent on executing the technicalities properly, and perhaps resorting to using a traditional “scheme” for the quilt that they may take a backseat. The art of the quilt can suffer.

I never really made a planned quilt. They grew and developed as I worked even though I always started with a plan. Even the plan in my mind was subject to drastic change at any moment, but I never threw out the basics of the construction and style of a traditional quilt.

At first these changes were tentative and minor. It was still a log cabin with darks on one side of the red chimney square, and lights on the other, but the fabrics were not all from one line, or one scale of print, or even all prints or solids but a mix of whatever I thought looked great.

I used drab colors with sparks of bright. Mud colors and subtle palettes were my signature look. Later I used more saturated colors, but subtle and subdued will always be pleasing to me.

I tried to work keeping in mind the spirit of quilters from the past who had no quilt shops, no fabric budget, but had to make do. They used their ingenuity and creativity to make wonderful quilts that still delight the viewer.

Later I ventured out into the array of new fabrics available as quilting flourished worldwide, and decided that strict “repro” quilts were not my thing, just as doing cross stitch designs and following the color charts never worked for me either. New threads and quilting techniques, designs and free motion methods all have affected the outcome of my quilts. Growth is a good thing in quilting, and keeps traditional quilts vibrant and fresh, ever changing, ever new.

I liked to play with my own color combinations, drawing on old quilts that wowed me as inspiration and then playing with variations of the traditional. Quilting motifs began as a continuation of designs used for hundreds of years, but have now changed and grown and are individual to me. Their roots are firmly based in tradition.

I still behave, and play by the rules: straight lines are straight, corners are not lopped off, precision in workmanship is very important to me. But within the structure and framework of traditional I have found much room for creative expression.

I continue to like the feeling of a challenge met when corners meet properly, geometry works out, bindings go on well.

Traditional in my mind has morphed into “classic.” It is a style of quilting based on an accumulation of history, culture, style that has worked for centuries in the decorative arts. It will continue to work in this century and beyond, but will leave room for growth, for creativity, fun, personal viewpoint, and color and design exploration.

A traditional quilt is a challenging and many times difficult quilt to make. The rules are not easy. Technical skills sometimes take years to achieve. Errors are easy to spot and can bring down the entire project. A quilter choosing this format has tough standards, a demanding task, a brave and intrepid spirit.

The rewards are worth it though. A true traditional quilt or “classic” can be exhibited in an art gallery and hold its own with contemporary art. It will also look perfect on a bed. It would command a room in an historic house, yet be a dramatic focal point in a NY loft apartment, all function, steel, glass, chrome, and brick.

It transcends time. It would be at home in the past, present, or future.
A traditional quilt will never be a trend or a fad, but reflect current styles and popular textiles melded with the quiltmaker’s personal art, all within a time-honored and tested format.

A traditional quilt lasts.

In this day of "trend du jour" in quilting, do not apologize for being a traditionalist. Create quilts, be proud of them, and explore your own art in this amazing genre of quilting.

"Butternut Summer," above 1998, and "Shadows of Umbria," below, at Paducah, 2008, two of my favorite classics.

Keep quilting,

Thursday, October 1, 2009

On the Radio!

Ami Simms, founder of the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative, will be on public radio today at 11 a.m. or listen to her interview on your computer. She deserves huge accolades for what she has done to fight this terrible disease, with so many of you out there helping as well. Here is what she says:

"I'll be on PBS radio WVIA-FM at around 11 am today talking about the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative. Listen on your computer at It will be available by podcast some time on Tuesday and rebroadcast at noon on Sunday.

Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece will be exhibited this weekend in Lewisburg, PA, hosted by the Susquehanna Chorale. They have just commissioned an original piece of music about Alzheimer's which will be performed on October 9th."

Give a listen,

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Scale and Proportion

When the photo, above, appeared on the cover of the first issue of Machine Quilting Unlimited I cringed just a bit. The stitches looked gigantic. The fabric, could it be burlap? The mistakes, did they show?

Well, yes, of course they did, magnified and blown up and the stitches huge. But the color and punch of this small piece were exactly what the magazine editors were seeking.

Most quilters probably thought this stitch “size” was my normal quilting. It was not. It was very fine quilting, very tiny stitches done on a tightly woven crisp unknown cotton sateen type fabric with an almost impenetrable surface treatment. My friend Liz Armstrong designed and made the tiny piece, smaller than the size of a piece of paper. I quilted it with YLI #100 silk thread and a #60 Microtex Sharp needle, with small stitches, probably about a 1.5 in length.

However, when it was chosen to be used on the cover of this issue it was blown up larger than life size. The stitches look sooooooo big. Quilters seeing this would not even hesitate in thinking the stitch length was about 2.5 or larger, and the thread perhaps a 40 weight. Not!

What is the correct scale and proportion for thread and stitch length in machine quilting? Our wonderful machines can handle very fine threads to quite heavy ones that I personally would probably delegate for the job of tying up tomato plants or wayward roses in the garden, but never think of putting them through my Bernina, gasp. I know, I know….it is done all the time, no harm done. And simply threading the machine with this thread will clean out the thread pathway wonderfully.

So what is the bottom line in correct stitch length? The stitch length depends on the weight, color, fiber of the thread. There is no one perfect answer. The scale of the stitch length must work with the proportion of the design as well.

A nice “golden mean” for stitch length can be found by using a fine long staple cotton like Aurifil #50 (reads like a 70) or Superior MasterPiece, both about the same in fiber and thickness. With this thread in the machine, top and bottom, you can establish a lovely machine stitch and then vary it smaller for finer threads such as #100 silk or larger, longer stitches for heavier threads such as #40. If you do free motion stitching with this set-up, a 1.8 stitch length or finer looks nice, and yes, you’ll probably have to lower the top tension a bit, sometimes a lot, depending on your machine.

If you don’t know what a 1.8 or 1.6 stitch length looks like, first stitch out a line of quilting using feed dogs and a presser foot on the machine, and set stitch length at this number.

You can make several rows at various stitch length settings for comparison to your free motion stitching to get points of comparison. Then try some free motion, still with this thread combo in the machine, and see what you have to do to make your free motion quilting look exactly like the line you quilted with the feed dogs up, and a walking foot or presser foot on your machine.

The fiber content of the thread also determines the stitch length. Lustrous, shiny threads like silk or poly tend to need a smaller stitch than heavy, duller threads, mostly cotton without a sheen to them. However, there are some very lustrous cotton threads (Aurifil, e.g.) and some dull poly ones, so the best thing is to always quilt with the thread and figure out its best tension and stitch length.

A good way to check this is to begin with a fine cotton, get the stitch length established by how fast you run the machine and how you move your hands.

I like to tell students that a faster machine speed and smooth, slow and even hand movement works well for most of us. So slow down your hands, keep them moving smoothly with no jerking or quick changes of direction, and run the machine a bit faster. Get out of first gear! Try the faster speeds on that beautiful piece of machinery you own. Let it own the road for once, but only go as fast as you can still feel “in control” of what you are doing with your hands. The problem then can occur where you hear the machine going faster and automatically speed up your hands.

Speed up the machine a bit, and keep your hands slow, smooth, even.
If an entire area of a design is quilted correctly but there are areas with some large “basting” type stitches, the viewer’s eye goes directly to these. They break up the design and look not so great. They are there because your hands moved too fast in that area for the speed of the machine.

I slow down for tricky places where I can’t see well, or for more demanding and precise types of quilting like echo quilting. And when I say slow down I mean both the speed of my hands and the speed of the machine. Hands and feet work together as one.

And sometimes I speed up when there is “open road” or an easy design I’ve done a million times, and when I speed up that means I move my hands faster and I run the machine faster too.

With more elegant, refined and closely spaced machine quilting, below, I need a finer thread and smaller stitches. Large, open scale and fast quilting can have bigger thread and bigger stitches, but keep them even, and have the proper machine tension.

One of the most frequent comments I get when people see my work in “real life” is that they never realized my stitches were so small. They are.
Because of the very fine thread and the designs I quilt. Both of these things determine stitch length.

When I thread my machine with a heavier thread, I automatically slow down the speed of the machine so with the same hand movement I’m used to I can achieve a bigger stitch length that is appropriate for heavier threads.

Play with your threads and designs. The stitch length will vary accordingly. It will take some experience for you to be able to switch from a fine cotton thread to various weights and fibers, but it can be done very successfully, and it will make your quilting that much more interesting.

Keep quilting! Your work gets better every day.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Home from the Great North

It is wonderful to be back home after a great trip to Brainerd, MN with the Pinetree Patchworkers. I taught two classes and did a lecture for the general meeting, and everyone was so welcoming and attentive.
I know it is tough in a class situation with round tables, machines the wrong height, machines bouncing at times, dead zones of lighting in the room, and the ever-present too hot in the room for some and too cold for others!
But we persevered with humor and fortitude and a bag lunch on the patio in the lovely warm temps, 80’s. I realize there were experienced quilters in the beginning class and I so appreciate your efforts to work along with me, and not be frustrated and bored. Beginners who were terrified loosened up, and quilted wonderfully. There are so many things to keep in mind all at once that it is incredibly daunting and I realize that, and give you all full marks for being so game to keep at it and come up with some very nice results.
This town is the home of Cherrywood fabrics (shown in photo above), and of course I came home with new additions to my library of their suede-like hand dyed solids that I have used in many pieces, most memorably in my log cabin quilt “Through a Glass Darkly: An American Memory,” and more recently “Shadows of Umbria.”
The rich color saturation, the way this fabric can be pieced so easily and precisely, the wonderful hand of it, the texture--all these things help make my quilts rich and elegant, and allow my intricate quilting to be showcased beautifully. #100 silk thread and Cherrywood cotton? A heavenly combination, and one I will revisit often.
My 7 ½ -hour drive south to Minnesota’s Twin Cities, and then south and east through Wisconsin was beautiful and relaxing. This time of year the landscape was at its best, and some early color in the maples and aspens blazed out amid the deep green of the pines and the oaks. Yellow milkweed and a hazy mauve mist of foxtail at the sides of the road and in the median were so pretty with the greens of fall grasses, farmers’ fields, woods and streams.
I listened to favorite music and before I knew it my home was down the road, and another trip came to an end. Arnie is glad I am home. He is still purring.

Hope to see you on one of my trips soon. You never know the delightful people waiting at the end of a journey.

Thank you Pinetree Patchworkers! I had a wonderful time.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Labor Day?

Arnie and I are 'home alone' this Labor Day weekend. He is sleeping. Then he wakes up and moves over and sleeps some more. Perhaps later in the day we will sit on the front stoop and watch the dogs and owners walk by and say hi. And then sleep some more.
I am busy getting my supplies and handouts ready for my upcoming classes in Brainerd, MN. I should be able to do this in my sleep by now, and I'm sure Arnie could, but it is always a big job.
Things are moving very slowly here in Wisconsin this weekend. It is a lazy, late summer day, the smell of Fall in the air but yet it is very warm and still. We listen to the late summer insects humming, and feel an expectancy of bright crisp days ahead.
Enjoy your weekend, relax, maybe do some quilting.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Listen to the Fabric

Sometimes we sit and stare, ponder, and dither, and finally the best option for difficult fabrics is to simply listen to them. Instead of countering the design they have, it’s not a bad idea to work with these designs by using them as the basis of a quilting motif.

The photo, above, shows a soft double zig-zag line of quilting on the bright yellow fabric in a challenge quilt I did last spring. Each border had the print positioned a bit differently as I wasn’t planning on using it as my quilting guide.

So each border was quilted with this design but was just a bit different. It all merged wonderfully and looked just fine.

It is fairly easy to use the fabric print as your guide, parts of it as positioning points in creating a freehand quilting design. I quilted freehand, stayed within the area I used in the print, and worked along steadily, looked ahead of the needle to the lines of the fabric itself, and yes, I had to take breaks to rest my eyes every now and then as it gets a bit dizzying doing this kind of quilting. But it went quickly and was fun to do.

This example, above, is another of the fabrics in this quilt and even though I tried some marked Diane-shiko on it as a small sample, I went with this freehand design that was 1) simple, 2) fast, and 3) effective.
It showcased the design of this gaphic fabric, it created a new dimension for the fabric, and added a new layer of design. It did not interfere, get lost, or take over. It was quite fun and easy to do. I finished all 4 borders in an hour or so.

And I didn’t have to mark it or try to see marks as I quilted or remove marks later.
The marked Diane-shiko I thought would look so wonderful was difficult to mark, impossible to see, and the final quilted sample looked pretty boring. I mean, really boring. You couldn’t see the quilting, and the fabric design was obscured. It was an exercise in the wrong design for the wrong fabric with the wrong result.
Don’t worry about switching your ideas while working on a quilt. Always try a sample of the quilting you plan on the fabric itself. Not only do you warm up and get into that design before you do it on the actual quilt, but you can see right away if it works into all the necessary requirements for being “the right design” for this area, this fabric, this quilt.
I have become far more flexible after years of quilting and have learned to listen to the quilt, to the fabric. It’s good to try something different than the same old, same old.

Keep quilting; your work indeed will get better every day!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Diane-shiko Tips

Many of you have been quilting this design, shown above in my quilt Shadows of Umbria, as a way to obtain a traditional Sashiko look with the ease of machine quilting simple arcs around a marked grid. I get questions about it in my classes and when I teach the technique, so here are a few tips for you. It is explained, step by step, in my book Quilt Savvy: Gaudynski’s Machine Quilting Guidebook, with many detailed photos.

Marking: Clear, crisp, easy-to-see marked ½” grids are the best. I use a ½” marked grid, on point, and use the June Tailor Grid Marker stencil. It makes it so easy. If you can’t see a nice “intersection” of two lines crossing, you are only guessing at a particular point, and the final result will be irregular. Also, you are stressed while doing the quilting because you just can’t quite see where you should be stitching.

I avoid chalk markers, the Pounce type ones, fuzzy tipped markers from too much use, lines you cannot possibly see except on another planet with a different light spectrum. Get a new marker, press lightly on it, let the ink in it wick out to the fabric rather than pushing/pressing so hard the line is fat and blurred and bleeding. Be delicate and precise.

For dark fabrics I like the Clover White Marking pen. It dries and stays crisp and bright, and is ironed out at the end.

Marking is crucial for this design. All four lines of the design “cross” at the point where the two grid lines cross, and precision helps make the design look its best.

Speed: Another tip is to quilt this design at one even speed, not too fast. If you move your hands too fast, the stitches will be so large the design will not look clean and even, but filled with irregular big “basting” stitches. Smooth slow steady hands create lovely even stitches.

Run the machine at a nice even medium speed so it doesn’t sound like a runaway train. Too fast and there go your hands, whizzing away and missing the intersections. Too slow and the stitches get large and uneven, and there goes the look of the design.

Learn the sound of the machine for the correct speed. It becomes comforting and allows you to relax and let your shoulders drop, and arms rest comfortably. You really only need to lift and move your hands for this design, not your arms at all.

Moving the quilt smoothly: Make sure the quilt moves smoothly on the machine bed. Use a Supreme Slider ( or starch the backing of your quilt. Make sure any Plexiglas has been cleaned and polished so it is smooth and slippery.

I never add anything to my surface, just keep it clean, and I don’t use any sprays near my machine that would settle on the surface and make it sticky. For me, the Slider really helps, but even without it, starching the backing, and my stainless steel bed of my Bernina make a huge difference in being able to move the quilt smoothly.
Look ahead of the needle. Visualize the half-way point on the arc and aim for the next point where two lines cross. Do not watch the needle itself.

Where to begin: I usually place one line of the arcs on both sides of a line forming little ‘footballs’ right in the center of an area as an anchor to hold it in place and then work from that.

Many times I do this from a design such as a quilted feather out to an edge and back perhaps twice, forming a "V," then cut my thread, place the needle at the outside edge or ditch and then work back to the design and “travel” on the edge, or the ditch, rather than on the outer edge of the design.
Visuals: It’s nice to do the Diane-shiko in a slightly different color thread than used for the design or different from the fabric color. But if you choose to try this idea, be sure and echo the design with the background thread color first, then proceed to do the Diane-shiko. This line of echo quilting in the thread color of the background quilting will give you a pathway for travel to the next line and will be undetectable.

Sometimes you have to slow down just a tad to do this travel quilting for a few stitches, and this is when you DO look at the needle and stitches. Being precise at traveling or stitching over a previously quilted line is crucial. If you can do this well, it will be undetectable and look fabulous.
I always place my Diane-shiko on the diagonal, or “on point.” I find there is less distortion of grainlines of the fabric, no pleating will develop, and the look is more elegant. Also, you won’t run into the "issue" of the design lines not being quite parallel to seamlines, a problem that can happen when you mark parallel to seams or with the grainline. It looks bad and can cause excess fabric pushing into pleats. In a very small area it works, but be wary of doing it on a large expanse of background.
Be sure and remove your marking thoroughly when finished. Check it under an Ott light or fluorescent light to be sure it is totally gone.

If you make the arcs correctly the finished design will look like interlocking circles. If the arcs are too skinny and flat it will still look great, but the overall circles will be flattened. Whatever you do, keep it consistent overall and don’t try and change to fatter arcs, flatter arcs, back and forth. Don’t over-correct if you find that the arc you just quilted is too thin or fat. Always try for the correct arc, and the few odd ones will simply blend in. Circles over circles will confuse the eye and no one will notice.

Words of Wisdom: If there is a bad arc, “let it go.” Don’t spend unnecessary time picking out quilting stitches. In time all the arcs will be great. If you stop all the time and un-quilt, you will always be making mistakes because a rhythm and muscle memory for the design won’t have a chance to develop.

Take breaks! Use a magnifier to see the marked grid! My Bernina has one available for purchase, a set of 3 wonderful lenses that do not make me carsick when I use them.

Use a slightly different colored thread so you can see the design, or blend it in with a matching color.

Use this design all by itself to cover and quilt a border, a block interior, a circle in appliqué, the center of flowers, on garments. Divide up a section into soft curves and do this design in one of them, other motifs in the remaining sections.
Yes, you can do this on a smaller grid such as 3/8" or 1/4" for tiny areas, or larger, perhaps a 1" grid. The larger the arc is, the more difficult, in a home sewing machine, to keep it smooth and all arcs similar.

If you do enough of this, it will get better and better. The biggest danger is to try and go way too fast. This design needs your concentration and focus but will garner results in the end. Everyone will love it.

Keep quilting, your work gets better every day.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

New Hats

New hats....sometimes it's pure fun and self-indulgence to shop for a frivolous item like a hat. A lovely outdoor summer wedding is coming up this weekend, so I decided to give in and buy a big straw hat. Whether I actually wear it or not is up for last-minute decisions, but the small expense of it compared to the fun I had picking it out is so worth it. While I was trying them all on and enjoying every minute of it, I discovered this sumptious felt cloche style hat with the cabbage rose that had to come home with me as well.

I may never wear it, but have plans of covering bad hair if need be, accenting my jeans and turtleneck fall outfits with this hat just to make a statement and enjoy the fact that I can wear a hat if I want to. I never thought being older would be so liberating!

Below, Cynthia, Susie and Marty are working hard in the class held at the National Quilt Museum. The entire class at work shows you the classroom, size, and how relaxed everyone was while working quietly, or gathering together around me and my machine for some instruction for all. Hope to see some of you there next year.

Until then, keep quilting! Your work gets better every day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Paducah Postcard

The fabric postcard, above, arrived in my stack of mail this weekend! I always find it totally amazing that a little "quilt" can go through the mail system, get a postmark, arrive at my home all in one piece. Love these, and hope to try making one myself one of these days.

This one is from Ruth Ohol, who was in my "The Adventure Continues" class in Paducah a week ago, at the National Quilt Museum. I admit I probably whined a bit about the seemingly endless drive to get there from Wisconsin. What used to be 7 hours was 10.

Illinois was one long highway headed south with road construction most of the way. My new Buick wanted to go fast and be nimble and fabulous out on the road, but no, we had to obey the rules and drive a modest 45 mph most of the way. I had a permanent bend in my body when I finally pried myself out of the car when I arrived in Paducah.

Ruth guessed at the mileage but it is an exact 500 miles for me from house to museum. A long drive, but one I usually enjoy, floating along at 80 and listening to music. Going home wasn't bad, some construction delays, but much faster. And going to Paducah is worth it, a terrific town, any time of the year.

By the way, if you haven't been to Sandra Leichner's blog to read about her "take" on the puff situation, machine quilting and applique, it is worth your time. Her work is beautiful, and she enhances her meticulous handwork with beautiful machine quilting to get a miracle marriage between hand and machine.

Oh, the road in the postcard is very accurate - the real highway is a straight line, due south. In southern IL it gets so beautiful, hills and forests and lovely vignettes of rural farms, horses, rolling hills.

Hope all of you have some highway adventures in August and enjoy the last of summer. The smell of autumn was in the air today, insects humming, ground fog in the hollows. Soon it will be back to school, and for me I hope some back to quilting.

Keep quilting!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Grip

How to hold the quilt in the machine for the best control and ease of quilting is an individual thing. We all find our “comfort zones” that will give us good grip and control, and still have ease of moving the quilt, plus no strain on our bodies.
Michelle, above, had a small blue piece in class last week and it was fairly easy for her to control the quilt with her hands. Alexandra's green quilt sampler was larger and she had more trouble moving it in class on a table-top set-up. Everyone persevered and had even stitches and control at the same time.
However, many quilters have a problem with this. I try to discourage students from “the death grip” on their quilts, even on small pieces. Too much pressure on it will only defeat everything you’ve done to make it move easily – pushing down on the quilt with your elbows in the air and shoulders hunched will give you pain and create uneven, jerky stitches.

Instead try relaxing your shoulders like Barbara, above, keeping your elbows down, and yes you many times do have to concentrate on that as many are completely unaware of their bird-like body positions while they quilt. It’s best of course to be able to rest your forearms much of the time on the surround or cabinet, on the quilt itself, and move the quilt with your hands, lightly touching the quilt and moving it easily.

Some helpful aids are a Supreme Slider to adhere to the bed of your machine,, that makes it so easy to move the quilt. You really only need this slippery stuff right around the needle zone as the rest of the quilt is bunched up and not moving. The area you move with your hands and fine finger control is only around the needle. This little helpful addition to your machine makes an incredible difference.
Many quilters like to wear gloves so their “grip” is better. I never have worn them but instead depend on the quilt to move smoothly on a smooth surface, divide the quilt into smaller areas to quilt where I can rest my arms and move it with my hands, using a very light touch, not palms pressed down hard. However, if you find you need them and can't move the quilt without them? Go right ahead; it just lessens that tactile feedback to your brain from the quilt.
There are other devices available to help control and move the quilt. I've tried them all, and they are more of a hindrance to me than a help, and a visual distraction too. I do think there are possibilities if you have physical problems and have a very hard time holding and moving the quilt. Then look for an aid, a hoop, gloves, whatever it takes to let you machine quilt.
If I see a quilter come to class and don the gloves, they may have a machine that doesn’t have enough room under the foot for smooth movement of the quilt and perhaps needs adjusting, or they are used to quilting big simple designs where a lot of the quilt has to be moved smoothly in big motions.

Another way to improve the “slide” of the quilt is to starch the backing before layering. This really helps that fabric move more smoothly and I’ve been doing this for years. It also helps stabilize the fabric so pleats don’t form on the back. I’ve never had this happen and I think starch and good pinning has been the answer for me. I know some like to hand baste with certain threads or even water soluble thread but I so do not like working with a hand sewing needle that I do stay with my #1 bent safety pins for basting.

Learning not to press down on the quilt so hard, learning to lift and control the quilt and help it move smoothly will do SO much for your control of the consistency of the stitches that you will be amazed. Everyone has their own particular style, so do what feels right for you but if you still find you can’t seem to hold and move the quilt smoothly, try something else.

I many times will scrunch up and area of the quilt by the needle to give me something more substantial to hold, rather than pressing down with my hands. If you do grab the quilt and lift it as you move it you might lose some of the “hands are the hoop” technique that smooths out the quilt in that needle zone. You might be able to move it easily but pleats might develop with excess fabric and no place to go.
It's wise to find the right combination of controlling the quilt with ease and smoothness of movement. Don’t sacrifice one for the other.

Relax, let your shoulders drop, breathe. Take breaks. Don't be afraid to stop the machine, re-position your hands, start again. I'll write about smooth stops and starts another day.

Keep quilting, your work gets better every day.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Class Experience

A beautiful copper ceiling in downtown Paducah, KY, is indeed an inspiration for quilting designs. Don't forget to look up every now and then! Surprises await us at every opportunity. Sometimes it's simply the way a line intersects with another, or the color of a leaf next to a blossom, but ideas are everywhere.

Our classes in Paducah at the National Quilt Museum have concluded but it might be fun for you to read about one student's experience, especially how she learned to use her provided machine, a different brand than what she herself uses. Mercy sent me her class scribe notes, and she has her own blog, so follow this link to read her delightful report on "The Adventure Continues":

Keep quilting!


Saturday, August 8, 2009


Sometimes it is more work to “unpack” from a trip than it is to pack. For some mysterious reason I always bring home more, even though I distribute the handouts, eat the food taken with me, sell the thread. My quilts “fluff” after being out and about in the classroom and take up more room, I buy a few things here and there, and clothes that have been worn and just tossed in the suitcase definitely take up more room.
Plus, the anticipation of the trip makes packing so much more fun than unpacking and getting back to the normal routine of everyday life at home. It is raining hard here in Wisconsin and we really need it for the parched lawns, gardens, farms. Good weather for "unpacking."

The laundry is in the washer, stencils back in the drawer, quilts out flat on my cutting table to relax and de-crease after being smooshed in the suitcase in hot, humid weather. I tacked the notes I made to myself on the wall, and now just have a bit of bookkeeping to do, then relax, quilt until it is time to get ready for the next trip.

I had a wonderful time with 39 students in two sessions at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY last week, and I too learned new things. Ideas, techniques, all were shared, and of course the quilts in the museum continually inspire and delight. It was a pleasure to visit two of my quilts on display and recall all that went into them and see them with a fresh perspective of time and distance.

The photo, below, shows some of my quilting on a small muslin sample. The circles, or “froth,” the bubbles on top of a hot latte, an heirloom variation of rocks or pebbles, are about 1/8” across.
When quilting them you need to slow down a bit, be sure the stitches don’t get too large or you’ll get rolling hexagons, adjust the top tension maybe a bit lower so the thread doesn’t pull as you do tiny designs. I used yellow thread on muslin and the effect is a subtle colorwash of color that blends and enriches.

Most of us in both classes found that quilting small circles like this is better done in small amounts at a sitting, short sessions at the machine. Be sure and take frequent breaks, look up, blink, rest your eyes. I use a magnifier on my Bernina whenever doing this sort of quilting design and it helps tremendously.

I do still take plenty of breaks though, and no one could pay me enough to quilt an entire background of tiny circles. I use them here and there, like a dash of seasoning in my quilt.

We discovered that #100 silk thread has this colorwash effect. Quilted heavily over a fabric color in a non-matching but blending shade it adds to the richness of the quilt without screaming “Thread!” or looking too contrasty. Thread is another tool we machine quilters can use to define our designs, control color, and let negative space show better.

Stitch length, color of thread, and machine tension are the three defining things that make or break the quilting.

Play around with some quilting and try a slightly “off” color of thread instead of matching it to the fabric, or contrasting it. Chartreuse silk thread on gold fabric, oh my, wonderful. How did I not know this twenty years ago?

Keep quilting, your work indeed will get better!


Saturday, August 1, 2009

School's Out

Class #1 is over at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY. Here are a few of my terrific students after they survived intensive quilting and instruction at the museum. And note that they are still standing!

We had a tour of a few quilts in the galleries today, and they had free access to the exhibits throughout the time they were here, and oh what beauties are on display! We saw Mariya Waters' Best of Show quilt from this year's AQS show, and Philippa Naylor's 2009 Bernina Award winner, both marvelous designs and amazing machine quilting.

The miniature collection is growing and is as awe-inspiring as ever to see these works of art, done in such a small scale, so perfect, so beautiful. Pieced, appliqued, whole cloth; it's all there. I was able to tell them inside information about my miniature quilt "A Visit to Provence" and my full size quilt, "Shadows of Umbria," both on display.

If you have never been to the museum, check out their website at and get information, because it is well worth the trip.

These quilters were in the very back of the room and laughter kept erupting as running jokes found new outlets for them. The quilting however was beautiful. Lovely, flowing designs, and attention to detail everywhere.
Congratulations class, you did so well, and it was a pleasure to meet and work with all of you.
Keep quilting, your work gets better every day.