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.

Deadlines are Good

I’m easily distracted.  I love to start projects, but sometimes other obligations (or newer projects) call, and this gets put aside for that.  Sometimes the “this” languishes.

buttonwood farm pruningButtonwood Farm is a wool appliqué project (adapted from Maggie Bonanomi’s book by the same name) which I was anxious to have hanging in my dining room.  To help ensure it was finished in a timely manner, I entered it into our local quilt show.

I finished the applique (some cotton and some felted wool on linen) weeks ago, knowing it “wouldn’t take much time” to quilt a project 43” square. As the show approached, I checked other things off the to-do list:  help with layout of the show floor, format and type booklet for the show, add sleeves to several other projects entered in the show.  Buttonwood Farm’s quilting kept getting postponed.

On Saturday, March 12, before the show was to be hung on Thursday, March 17, I pinbasted the quilt top to the batting and backing.  A few hours home alone that day meant I got the interior section of the quilt outlined and some filler designs done immediately.  In the next few days, sitting down to quilt gave me focus for a few hours, distracting me from the anxiety of the upcoming show.  Stitching soothes me.

On Wednesday, March 16, I added a binding, sleeve, and label.  Whew!  But after a ribbon was attached, I saw stray threads hanging.  One of our vendors loaned me some scissors to do a little pruning.

Oh, and I was “busted” during the awards ceremony.  The project was so fresh that I had forgotten its name and thought they meant the ribbon was going to a friend’s project with a similar title.  But now the quilt is finished and can hang in my dining room.

Details of quilt:  Cotton and felted wool appliqué on linen.  Quilted with Aurafil 50 wt cotton thread.  Dream wool batting.  The name “Buttonwood Farm” is Maggie’s.  I stuck with it when I investigated and found that buttonwood and sycamore were both common names for Platens occidentals.  My hometown of Sycamore was founded in 1891, so I changed the date on my rendition.