Machine Quilting: Tropical Flowers

Mary made this quilt and brought it to me to finish for her granddaughter.
 Mary wanted flowers and something flowy quilted on this one and I was happy to do the job.
 I love quilting these flowers! With just a few simple adjustments I can either make them look like pansies or tropical flowers or shamrocks... The possibilities are endless!
 And swirls are just a favorite... I could probably make an excuse to quilt swirls on almost every quilt that shows up at my door.
I love how this quilt turned out. The flowers and the swirls and the colors - it's like a match made in heaven!


Confessions: The Ugly Duckling Stage

Hello! Welcome back for another Confessions post. Again, if you're new to my little blog, this is a weekly series where I try to share some of the behind the scenes happenings in the life of a machine quilter and attempt to clear up the confusion that exists in the quilting world. There are too many instances quilters find themselves in and even with all the books and blogs and tutorials available, a lot gets skipped over because everyone ASSUMES everyone else knows how to do everything. I'm trying to whittle my way through all of these topics and use this as an outlet to help-me-help-you. I hope that makes sense.

Today I would like to discuss the ugly duckling stage. It doesn't happen to every quilt, but most quilts... And sometimes it can happen multiple times to the same quilt.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That statement has never been more true than in quilting. Everyone has their own style and likes and dislikes and they can change often. Quilters can experience the ugly duckling stage in different ways. Today I'm going to talk a bit about what happens on the long arm side of things.

I have been quilting a ton of custom quilts lately and I love it. It keeps me on my toes and challenged creatively and I'm always coming up with new ideas. Every once in a while a quilt will stump me for a bit, but then once I figure out the way to get my plan to work it's like magic.

With custom quilts I rarely give away my entire plan to my client beforehand or during because:
1. I may not have the entire plan yet
2. I don't like to show my secrets (sometimes I have a trick or two up my sleeve I like to hold back)
3. The plan may change and alter slightly once I actually start on the quilt (the doodles and the real life quilt can look completely different sometimes)
4. The Ugly Duckling Stage

As of late with all of these custom quilts coming, I have had a lot more requests to see pictures of the quilt "in progress" and that always makes me nervous. I know my plan. I have the vision. That's why you send me the quilts.

You don't know the plan. You don't have the vision. That's my job. And when you see the quilt "in progress" it could be in the ugly duckling stage. It's kind of like when you fix up your house and you get new furniture, but then the new furniture looks so good it makes the walls look bad and dingy and now you want to touch up the walls and paint... Same principle. With only parts of the quilt finished, it can make the unquilted areas look ick.

Usually when I do send clients pictures of their quilt "in progress" it's because it's coming along even better than I anticipated and I'm so giddy I can hardly stand it so I have to share the excitement. But the quilt isn't finished yet so some areas may be bare or still in progress too. Sometimes when this happens I have a lapse in judgment and I send off a picture so giddy to get a response. And then it happens...

I get the "I like _____ but I'm not loving ____" or "that part will get quilted and look better, right?" and nothing gets mentioned about the reason I sent the picture in the first place and my heart sinks. Truly it does. With a job like this you pour your heart and soul into these quilts - you have to have a passion for this because it shows - and sometimes getting that response knocks the wind out of my sails and then I get anxious and nervous that they don't like it and I start to second guess myself when I was so passionate about the plan I had a few minutes ago and excited for how it was turning out...

And then I don't want to work on the quilt anymore because what if they don't like it and blah blah blah. Gosh darn that ugly duckling! Seriously, there are some quilts that behind the scenes I will consult with some of my long arming friends on ideas and plans and there will be this whole nervous breakdown over the smallest detail and my clients have absolutely no idea. It's nothing against their work or their quilts, it's all part of the artistic process.

So that's when I take a break, walk away for a bit, maybe play with Maura or go grab myself an adult beverage and come back to it refreshed and relaxed. Usually that is enough to brush aside any residual anxiety and get back to work.

And you know what happens? The quilt turns out amazing, sometimes even better than I could have imagined and life goes on. Sometimes even the part that people complained about initially then becomes their favorite.

This is where the ugly duckling stage can happen in quilts too. Maybe sometimes it's a bundle of fabric that has that one piece in it you can't stand but if you take it away, the rest goes blah. Maybe it's that block you had trouble piecing and you're sick of looking at it. Maybe it's just that quilt that you don't like but you started it and you're bound and determined to finish it even if it'll kill you. Don't write off the whole project and toss it aside never to see the light of day again. Maybe, just take a small break, come back to it after a bit and try again.

If you still don't like whatever was bugging you after that break, rip it out, start over, throw it in the trash. But give it a second chance! Try to push through and get to the finish line before you officially don't like it anymore. I LOVE when clients bring me quilts that they finished and they don't like it anymore - that's my chance to help them fall in love with it all over again and realize why they started it in the first place!

Ugly ducklings don't stay ugly forever!!!


Machine Quilting: Crane Kimono

Sharon sent me this quilt which was really interesting to me. It was a panel that I quilted before, but in a completely new way that I never would have thought of!
 It's a little hard to see here because of the angle (again still getting used to taking photos in the new quilting space - the old room was square and the new one is thin and long) but the crane panel is in the middle of a pieced kimono with some more borders added around it.
 Sharon wanted the sky to be as "lifelike" as possible with clouds. There was a little back and forth trying to figure out what kind of clouds she was looking for because my first instinct was to do stylized clouds that are common in Oriental quilts. I can only quilt with the thread like a line drawing so I had to think a bit on this one how to get the look she was going for within my abilities.
 Aside from the clouds, the rest of the panel was filled with quilting to follow along the design, you actually can't see most of it and that was the plan. The other areas were filled with a variety of fillers, some based on the fabrics and some not so much.
 The moon was fun to do, I added in some straight lines and bubbles to mimic craters and shadows. It's a little artsy, but it fit within the rest of the quilt.
The other fillers were fun and defined the areas as needed, but all worked well together too. That's sometimes the hardest part of designing custom quilting - trying to make everything work on it's own yet together and not have any one part look like an afterthought.

Thanks, Sharon, for sending me this quilt to work on! It's still hard to imagine that the same panel can have completely different looking results once it's all finished!


Machine Quilting: Paper Pieced Hunter Star Plus

Sharon sent me this quilt she made. It is like a Hunter Star, but there's an extra point added in... Anyway, it's beautiful!
 All of the background prints were these gorgeous Orientals with a slight metallic sheen. Being that the pattern is traditional with a twist and with the fabrics being, well, not traditional - I was stumped at first how to attack this one. Oriental fabrics and quilts are very theme specific but I wasn't sure Sharon wanted that since she chose a traditional style pattern. This one took a little back and forth, a few alcoholic beverages, some pondering, some late night ideas and a bunch of doodles to come up with the right compromise.
 This quilt was quite large and it's hard to tell in the pictures because of the scaling, but these blocks were small. There were just lots of them and since the quilting was scaled in proportion to the quilt blocks, it's very deceiving. The quilting was maybe 1/2" apart at the most in the background swirls.
 I switched to a tad darker thread to quilt the stars themselves because the metallic was a little different. The lighter thread was too light. You can't really see it here, but there's a dahlia like flower in the star.
 You can see it a bit better here. I also quilted some "leaves" in the red points so even though it's not really - this was the tying factor to the Oriental fabrics with some organic style flowers and leaves between the waves and swirls.
Here's the back of the quilt, without all of the different fabrics and colors you can see the quilting so much better.

This was a fun quilt to work on and Oriental quilts are always the hardest for me to design and plan. They're so theme specific that it really limits my options and I have to do a ton of research before each and every one like this that I receive.

Thank you, Sharon!


Machine Quilting: Karen's Birds

I will start this post by saying I'm sorry I didn't take better pictures. This was right after we moved, I was still getting used to the new quilting space and I had a newborn. I'm shocked I could speak in full sentences let alone remember to take pictures of the quilts when I finished them. That being said, here's the best picture I got:
 It was a large beautiful quilt... I promise. There were all sorts of embroidered designs of birds and leaves in each of the blocks.
 You can see some of the embroidery here. We chose to leave the embroidery alone and use a teal thread for the quilt. Since the main colors were black, white and teal, teal was the least offensive thread over the whole quilt.
The center design were these fun curls that have become a new favorite of mine, then I did some ribbon candy in the black border and some modern bubbles along the edges.

Thank you, Karen! This quilt was beautiful and fun to work on!


Confessions: Variegated Thread and More Thread Stuff

Before we get into today's Confessions post, Sue just shot me an email about her China Shop quilt I just shared - if you will be in the Santa Clara, CA area this weekend for the Pacific International Quilt Fest - you will be able to see this quilt in person. Not able to attend, a little birdie also told me this quilt may make an appearance at Road to California in January :) And yes this quilt may be for her bed someday, part of why it wasn't crazy dense quilted. It needed to fluff a bit and be soft enough to snuggle.

I cannot thank you all enough for the kind words and comments on the latest quilting posts. Sadly I still have a bunch of catching up to do and I'm only just now getting to share quilts I did this past Spring. One day I will catch up and be sharing what I'm working on as I'm working on it with a few exceptions here and there. I have to have a few secrets from time to time!

Oh, and a quick Maura update - Maura is now 7 months old, 29" tall (she grew another inch last month which keeps her at the 99.7% mark - she didn't get it from me, only a few more inches and she'll be half my height!), she's crawling everywhere, pulling herself up on everything and attempting to walk! Since she's so freaking tall she's fitting into 18 month pants, 12 month shirts and I'm afraid with how well she's been sleeping the last few days it's either her teeth finally about to pop through (cross your fingers) or she's having *another* growth spurt that I honestly am just not prepared for. She loves beets, so far the only food she doesn't like is avocado and obviously she eats like a champ. I love her to pieces although she wears me out most days and I know the fun is yet to come once she is truly mobile which will be here before we know it!

Okay, how about we actually get to the post you're all here for? I had a question last week from karenf asking about variegated thread and what I use on the bottom. Great question, Karen!
 As you can see I don't have a lot of variegated thread. Barely any actually. There's a reason for that and basically it comes down to I just don't like it. There is a time and a place for variegated threads but they're trendy. And trendy becomes dated. And before you know it your masterpiece of a quilt looks cheap and kitschy all because of the thread.

Alright, I may be a little over dramatic here, but you know I'm right. Or I hope you do.
 For this reason I only have these two colors of variegated thread in my cubby. And as you can see they aren't very necessary since they're stuck behind my bobbin winder and almost out of sight - like my other threads. I honestly can only remember using each one once in the last year... I almost wish I never bought them.
 I have more. I obviously don't use them that often because:
1. They're hidden in the bottom drawer
2. I couldn't remember what drawer they were in and I guessed wrong three times before I found them
3. I just don't. If I use any it's the pastel colors on baby quilts - again a time and place and baby quilts you can get away with bolder color choices than on other quilts most days.

So here's what I do if I use a variegated thread. If I use variegated thread I only use it on the top of the quilt. The bobbin hardly ever runs out along the edge of the quilt and it's too hard to line up the color sequence just right when you can't see it. It may not be that big of a deal normally, but to me that transition would stand out like a sore thumb and drive me crazy!

Once I have the top thread, time to choose the bobbin. Again I always use a solid on the back and I try to pick something in the middle - something that's not too dark or too light for the colors in the variegated thread. This can be tricky because sometimes you need to go a tad darker with the bobbin thread to compensate for the darkest colors in the top thread, and it may not work well with the backing on the quilt. There's so many variables in quilting that it's hard to give a clear answer on this one.

Basically try to find a middle ground for the bobbin, but find the color in the variegated thread that will be your troublemaker (there's always one color that's bolder than the rest) and work with that color in mind first. For example - in the pastel threads the blues or purples always cause issues because they're darker. Sometimes I would love to use a white or yellow thread, but sometimes a green or a pink is the winner because it works better with the darker colors.
 Which brings me to another topic - checking your tension. I had a client ask where my "practise quilting" was because it wasn't on the side of their quilt. Some quilters check their tension above or to the side of a quilt before they actually start working on the quilt top. Best to check and make adjustments before it's in the quilt itself and needs fixed and ripped out.

I use basically the same threads all the time so I don't need to make that many adjustments, and if I do they're small, but it happens. I start to check my tension as I load the quilt stitching along the edges where no one will see it anyway. You will always get the best results working on the same fabrics and the same batting as the quilt you're working on - no brainer there.

This is my "long arming desk" and that lime green piece to the right is my trick in this situation.
 Aside my calendar and client notes of what I need to do on what quilts, I have my colored pens to keep me organized, my pin cushion, my pins, and my trusty lime green scrap. This is a scrap of old fabric sandwiching the batting I use the most and it's what I test my tension on aside from your quilts.
 As you can see I use a ton of different threads and I try to quilt a few tight circles this way and that way and in every direction to truly test the tension. If it looks good I move on and actually work on the quilt itself.
I also use this scrap when I change bobbins. Let's face it, this is an industrial machine that takes oil and sometimes it splashes up after you put a drop in the bobbin case. Rather than having that oil slick on the backside of your quilt, I test the thread again on this scrap. If any oil spills out, this fabric soaks it up leaving your quilt clean and dry.

One other thing about threads and quilts. I try to work my way through the quilts I get in the order they came to the best of my ability, but sometimes I need to switch it up. Again, this is an industrial sewing machine and lint happens. A lot. I will never switch from black or red threads to a white quilt. No matter how much I clean with brushes and vacuums, there will always be lint. It makes appearances at the most inopportune times, or so I used to think. I noticed they tend to happen the most right after I change bobbins, especially from one thread color to another. If I quilt just a little on my fabric scrap, those extra lint bubbles work their way out. You can see some in the photo above. Those splotches of grey in the stitching. That's the lint. It can be thick and oily and messy and nearly impossible to remove once stitched in. I'd much rather have it appear on this scrap than the back of your quilt.

And in case you missed that little detail, I tend to arrange my quilts as best I can in the order they arrive, but sometimes it doesn't work. When I jot down the quilt on my schedule I also note what color thread I think I'll use. Sometimes I'm wrong, but it's an important detail that keeps my schedule running as smooth as possible. I try to work the colors of threads as close as I can just in case there's any lint (which is hardly ever, but again, this is a precaution I take that helps keep the situation almost non-existent). If I'm working on a quilt that uses a red or burgundy thread, I usually try to quilt with brown or pink, then maybe a tan before I even think of loading a white quilt onto my machine. I can always go darker easily, but going lighter is the trick. The great thing is I almost always have an array of client quilts to work with that suits my needs, but trust me - I have quite the stash of UFOs myself that I can always squeeze in if need be.

Sometimes this plan works (it usually does and is why I still keep to it to this day), but the rare exception are the crazy custom quilts that use several thread colors in one quilt. Luckily most of these quilts have a color theme that allows for thread changes, but it can still be a challenge.

I swear one day I will talk about other topics than thread, but it's hard to stop once you start. Again, if you have a question about fabrics, quilts, the quilting process, please comment below or email me at rubybluequilts (at) gmail (dot) com and I will work it into a future topic. I have so much to say and don't always have the time (with an almost mobile baby) to prep for the topics as I'd like, so bear with me. Sometimes trying to take good pictures and editing them and writing the posts can eat up a ton of my time, but I'm trying!

I hope you all enjoyed the topic for today and again, check back often for more quilt pictures and another Confessions post next Wednesday!


Machine Quilting: China Shop

Fair warning here - you are about to experience photo overload. There was just no other way to show this quilt...
 Sue sent me this quilt and here's what I learned very quickly - it's Kaffe Fassett so it pretty much rocks from the start, Sue is an applique phenom and I love her work, and I pretty much couldn't wait to get started on this one but wasn't sure where to start at first.

This quilt took a ton of planning, moreso than I usually do for most quilts. Part of the reason being there were so many different types of vases and dishes and we wanted to keep the same quilting in each one if possible - the goal was to use a few different designs and repeat it as much as possible. Originally I was all set - this vase will have this quilting and this background... And then I took another look at the quilt. Some vases were in individual blocks, some blocks had 5 vases, some had three... My plan wasn't going to work how I thought.
 So I started with what I knew and chose a design for each vase and went from there. It was still a challenge to have an even mix of designs scattered throughout the quilt and then to choose a background that would both work well with the vases and the surrounding blocks too, but with a little perseverance it happened and I think the results are magical.
 Basically the sashing was quilted with ribbon candy. That left the vases to be quilted in straight lines, cross hatching, double cross hatching, and curved cross hatching. The backgrounds were generally filled with more organic flowy shapes like pebbles, clamshells, swirls, curls, etc.
 Again the hardest part of planning this quilt was making sure the blocks had enough contrast within the quilting designs as well as contrasting to the designs around them while trying to balance out the designs overall. Phew. Makes me tired just thinking about it.
 There were a few special blocks that only appeared once or twice in the quilt like these platters.

 This center block was fun and unique due to the raw edge applique. In the flowers I followed Sue's lead and just followed along her stitching or just did enough extra to tack down the flowers without adding in another visual design.
 I improvised here. I originally planned to have this background as all straight vertical lines... But the block was too large for the span of my quilting machine (and it's one of the biggest out there), so I did a little echoing and then continued on with the lines. It was less adjusting and I think it turned out better than the original plan!
 This was quite a large quilt and a little challenging to quilt it custom without going super crazy. I know it doesn't look like it in photos, but we chose to quilt this a little more open than I normally would... It still has a lot of quilting but only a fraction of what I thought we were going to do.

 I love how each vase and each block has a personality but it all works so well together. I can only say planning ahead and keeping meticulous notes on this quilt was my saving grace. I could have gotten off track so easily with all this going on!
 I LOVE this quilt. This is normally not my colors, not my style, but there's something so captivating about this quilt that I didn't want to give it back... But I did... Even though I wanted to keep it and love it forever...
 I did stare at this quilt for days and could still do it. There are so many details just within the fabrics and what Sue chose to put where... Kaffe will do that to you, but in this pattern with the contrast available it allows for so much more...
 Normally Kaffe quilts have the fabrics all run together and it's just a big mass of color and flowers. This is the same but not. Even though it's really bright and bold it's almost calming...
 Not the back though. The back is all wild and wonderful Kaffe too. Sue pieced this back and appliqued circles here and there (like she's not an overachiever already).
I always love pulling the quilt off of the machine and flipping it over to see the back and this quilt did not disappoint. I love when you can see the blocks and the details without seeing the pieces parts. It's like a second version of the quilt that's just as nice. As a quilter I always want the back to look as good as the front, no detail too small!

Thank you, Sue!!! I always enjoy working on your quilts and your applique is beyond words. Seriously, I can't say enough good things about it, it's perfect every time! And the teeniest tiniest little stitches! Perfection!

If you have a quilt you'd like me to work my magic on for you, please check out the information page (click here), or you can call me at 440-567-1688 to discuss details or email me at rubybluequilts (at) gmail (dot) com.
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