Monday, February 16, 2015

A Winter's Pace

The days are cold, snow covers the landscape, and the light has changed, coming in at different angles and illuminating old favorites in a new way.  It's ok to slow down one's pace, linger with coffee a bit longer, have lunch with a friend, work on no-pressure projects or explore new ideas in your work.

I have been playing at my machine and trying new techniques for fun on these long bright afternoons where it is good to be cozy and warm in my upstairs room, music playing, machine on and back in action.  I have re-discovered feed dogs, thick lustrous embroidery threads,  and programmed stitches!  

Years ago I included some broderie perse on one of my quilts, October Morning, a Delectable Mountains pattern with a good central spot that cried out for this vintage technique.  I vaguely remember learning how to use my machine, digging out the right foot, adjusting the stitch and tension to get the look I wanted for the fused raw edge applique, and enjoying it very much.

"October Morning" 1999

Now I wanted to try something more modern so I have been using ancient fusible web that was still where I left it in 1999 and watching my needle zig where I wanted it to zag, and saying "oh no!" out loud.  Ah, the joys of trying to figure it all out.

I winged it at first (how does fusible web work???), then consulted my personal quilt book library and read how various authors recommend doing this.  I have lots of info now from art quilts to very traditional formal work, and hope to try some new things tomorrow.  I have enjoyed rediscovering how to do this and who knows where it may lead.  Broderie Perse?  Coneflowers?  Tiny circles?  One thing I know is I must buy some fresh fusible web before doing anything more.

Meanwhile, my bit of advice is if you never try something you will never really for sure know if you do like it or not, if you can do it or not, if it has some promise for wiling away an afternoon or two......and to include it in a future quilt, or not.

Hope you had a chocolate or flower-filled Valentine's Day.....and I have so loved hearing from so many of you in comments or emails.  It's good to be back.

Keep quilting, your work gets better every day,

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Celtic Bubbles as Background

I have been practicing Celtic Bubbles around a flower I quilted several years ago to see if I liked making this design smaller to use as a background, rather than as a design in itself with the lines spaced farther apart in each spiral.  

Here you see how the design nestles around the large simple shapes of the flower, and it wasn't too hard to do.  The ruler gives you a guide as to the size of the quilting, the flower, and the background spacing which is a scant 1/8".  It is time consuming, but then so are tiny bubbles or pebbles, stippling, little bananas, any closely spaced background technique.  

When I taught this design I always suggested beginning with a scant 1/4" spacing, something your brain is so good at estimating from doing piecing, and continue with this spacing until you have mastered the technique.  It is by far the easiest spacing for almost everyone, and the easiest to do on a home machine with limited space.  

When you feel confident, then try some bubbles with decreased spacing, or make them larger, whatever is your inclination.  Keep in mind it is far easier to quilt large circles, with more space between the lines of stitching, on a longarm machine than a home machine.  It is easier for me to go smaller on my home machine than bigger, always.  So keep that in mind.  However, some quilters naturally tend towards larger designs and spacing, some do better small scale.

What I like about doing these spirals is they begin in the center and are so controlled as you quilt.  I never felt like things were getting away from me, but I could go fairly fast too the bigger the spiral became.  Doing the same shape/technique over and over really helps you improve quickly and gain confidence.  It goes faster than you would think and stays interesting for you, never boring.

One reason I find it fun to do is that each spiral shape has to bump into something already quilted and you have to resolve the design so it looks layered, looks as if it is peeking out from behind the flower, feather, another spiral, etc.  It isn't hard to do this, but takes control to slow down as you approach a line of stitching, stitch over it to get to the point where the next round of the spiral should appear.  

This control makes the design look very precise and intricate, gives it the "wow" factor.  If you are sloppy and just mush things in or miss your travel stitching the design becomes just lines and stitches and you lose the clarity of the floating spirals all layered in the background.

For the tutorial on Celtic Bubbles please see this earlier blog post.

Some things I discovered:
  • If there are little nooks and crannies, long skinny spaces, odd spaces where it would be exceedingly difficult to add arcs or continue the spiral design, simply fill these with echo quilting, small bubbles or pebbles, tiny stippling.  As I echo the focal point quilting (here, the flower) I filled in some of these odd areas as I went.  The last echo of the design will be with the color thread used for the Celtic Bubbles so traveling will not show.
  • Begin at the center of each spiral, being careful not to start too far from another bubble or something you'll bump into.  If you do start too far away, the spiral will become very large indeed, and more difficult to do, and will stand out from the others.  However if you want larger and fewer spirals, the farther away you start one from a completed one, the bigger it will become.
  • Speed is important to keep your control.  I begin with a nice even slower speed to establish the circle shape, then speed up the machine to keep up with my hands as they go faster to keep the big smooth circles going well.  If you speed up your hands to make the larger arcs, the stitches will get way too big if you don't speed the machine too.  If stitches start out very small and get very large by the last circle it means your machine was not keeping up with your hands.  Work on it and it will become natural to speed up the machine to keep up with your hand movement so you get smooth spirals from the center all the way out.
  • I seem to do my Celtic Bubbles counterclockwise.  I don't know what that means......!  But, it just feels natural.
  • You can gradate the sizing of these and begin with larger ones, with greater spacing, then slowly decrease their size and the spacing.  This would give you a more artistic effect, perfect for pictorial quilts or art quilts.  Experiment!  Try different thread colors on your fabric to see what looks best before you commit.
I hope you give these a try and learn to love doing them as I do.  I wouldn't fill vast spaces with tiny ones, but these work so well in a small area to set off quilting or applique.  

It's a sunny cold day here in Wisconsin, with more snow from overnight, and Oliver is sleeping on the bed near me with spiked fur on the top of his head from the faucet water running off his head as he drank.  I usually remember to smooth it down, but it has dried into hard spikes, the punk cat look.  He is such a sweetie.

Keep quilting!  A little bit every day is a very good thing.