Dancing with my Sewing Machine

Miss Ruby's Red Bouquet
Miss Ruby’s Red Bouquet

Occasionally I will stitch layers of fabric and batting together with a hand stitch–to revisit history, or pay homage to my foremothers, or because it “suits the piece”.  But my real love is hand-guided, free-motion quilting on my sewing machine.

I use my simple, straight stitch sewing machine without a stitch regulator.  The “domestic” sewing machine where you sit and move the fabric under the needle.  Some people liken the process to drawing something by holding the pencil in place and moving the paper underneath the point.  That’s it.  Except this pencil point is sharp and is moving up and down.

It did take a lot of practice to become adept at the process.  But I was determined.   Once I became satisfied that I was getting the hang of it, I relaxed and realized I thought of it as “dancing with my sewing machine.”  Now I can stitch and talk at the same time.  I can draw designs with the sewing machine without marking the fabric first.  And, I enjoy it.

How did I learn to do this?  By reading and watching videos.  Diane Gaudynski’s books were the most helpful to me when I started this process.  I watched videos of her at work, as well.  Then I tried the technique myself.  Once I had to have a book at hand at every step of the process, selecting the needle, remembering how to start and stop, adjusting the tension, troubleshooting.

Later on, websites like Leah Day’s 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs  gave me ideas for filler designs and how to stitch them.  Now, I have a file of designs in my sewing room, a bulletin board of designs on Pinterest, and a sampling of ideas in completed projects.  I sometimes run downstairs to look at a quilt on the wall to examine a stitching design.

I do tend to quilt my quilts heavily.  Bullet proof.  Within an inch of their lives.  I can spread the quilting further apart, but I’m usually disappointed in the end result.  My stitches end up being about 1/4″ apart in all motifs. That’s just how I like it.

Details of photo:  This quilt uses cotton fabrics, wool batting and cotton thread.  The variety of textures comes from several quilting designs: a feathered plume, curved grid, pumpkin seeds, some echoing, free hand vines, and paisley loops.

Piecing Pleasures

featherweightToday was a day with much time on the phone and on the computer.  Arranging details for upcoming events, paying bills, scheduling things.  Frustrating all.

And, seemingly accomplishing nothing.

But then I went into my sewing room for an hour or so.  I cut up some fabric and sewed it back together.  Now I’m myself again.

It was a simple design…one I’ve done before, but just refining the size of the block for another project.  But the pressing of the fabric, the slicing with a sharp rotary cutter, the sewing back together again, the hum of the machine.  Is there anyone who doesn’t find this process comforting?

I know, there are people who break out in hives just hearing about this.  But those are people who like to clean house and pull weeds, I think.  I love to sew!

I think I should reiterate that I was using a really simple forgiving pattern that does not involve matching intersections or tedious measuring.  Though those kinds of projects are rewarding too, today I needed improvisational bliss!  I oversized the pieces, sewed with a casual seam allowance, and trimmed to fit.  Pure pleasure!

Miss Lily’s Baskets

 

Miss Lily's basketsThis little quilt is a special treasure.  It was made with strategies I don’t normally employ.  I bought a charm pack of French General fabric (red is not usually my go-to color), came home and started stitching (I often mull over design plans for quite some time before I start cutting and sewing), I appliquéd baskets in front of tv several evenings until it was done, assembled the top and quilted the project all in about a month.

I had drawn the basket pattern for another project using Granny Zee’s scrap bag.  So I pulled out that plastic template, marked a square as the background, another as the basket fabric and started stitching.

As I made baskets, I placed them on the design wall and a color scheme began to emerge.  I played with several arrangements, but saw a light to dark progression forming in the background fabrics while the reverse was happening with the baskets.  I had always been intrigued by some of Judy Dale’s work where she accomplished that and suddenly, it was happening for me.

A neutral little check worked as alternate blocks and a sweet little quilt was born.  Oh, I did add my focus block that I focus block Miss Lily's basketlove…a basket sitting on one square, its
handle on three others.  The handle became a wreath with a perky little red checked bow.

img292 copyThe quilt is named to honor a sweet perky little lady I knew in my childhood.  Miss Lily.  Here she is pictured beside the love of her life, Mr. Charlie.

Details of quilt: finished size:  25” x 31”, wool batting, free-motion machine quilting.  30-weight polyester thread was used to quilt the vine and leaf motif in each alternate block, echoing that with 50-weight, 2 ply cotton thread

Sharing the Journey

I read where solitude and reflection are necessary for creativity to bloom.  I know that to be true.  I can work on my art with conversation, podcasts, or a television – if my art is in the stitching phase, or adding details to a drawing.  In other stages, I need alone time.

But the memories are made when the experience is shared.  The conversations, the podcasts, the music my husband is playing while I stitch, all find their ways into the eye of the needle and are easily recalled when the piece is finished.

Sharing the journey sometimes means the expedition reaches its destination.

imageWhen I first conceived  “Fifty-Two Tuesdays” I proposed to make a mini quilt each week for a year.  I planned a written journal to accompany it, thinking that at the end of the year I would have a finished quilt and a book. I shared this vision with my writing group at the outset.  They embraced the idea and as the year progressed, they asked questions about the structure of “the book”.  My creative focus was on the quilt itself and keeping a journal of the details; fabrics included, threads, batting, techniques.

Since some members of that group knew little about quilting, their questions forced me to think more about the writing element.  The take-away message here is to share your journey with people who don’t follow the same path that you do.  They force you to see your destination from a different point of view.

And if you are easily distracted, it helps to share your end goal.  My darling daughter, DJ, who loves all things fiber as I do, loves to quilt vicariously through me.  She sews and knits, but being a working mom, her fiber pursuits are now confined to shorter projects.  In phone conversations, she puzzled fabric choices and “how am I going to resolve….?” dilemmas with me.  And.  Every Tuesday night, she expected to get a text message with a photo of the completed hexagon.  That kept me on schedule.  The lesson here is to engage a taskmaster.  Deadlines are good.

And, finally, share your success.  During the year, I took a few completed hexagons to show to members of my drawing class. Comprised mostly of non stitchers, this group overlooked the bunched up binding and skipped stitches, providing positive feedback.  A reminder to look at the big picture.  “Perfection is the enemy of creativity.”

With help from all these cheerleaders, I accomplished something that I had dreamed but might not have pursued to the end.  And when I look at the finished products; a quilt and a book, I see these people who supported me as well as the events that inspired the designs.