Sunday, 25 September 2011

Far and Wide

Friday was a big shipping day! New English Quilter frames, purpose built tables and Nifty Grips went to Western Australia, Ireland, Scotland, Ontario Canada and California USA! What a day!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

2 Quilts in 3 Days

Meet Kate. Kate's been a piecer for years. She's been making quilts since she could hold a needle. But this week, Kate became a quilter! Like most of us, Kate has lots and lots of tops. She loves buying fabric and making blocks but she gets stuck on the quilting part. Sound familiar? ; )

On Saturday, Kate is heading off to Bristol for University and she thought she might let the looming deadline spur her on to finish a couple of quilts. Kate's been enjoying playing around with log cabin blocks. She has two really different looking tops, each utilizing the log cabin pattern.

The top in the photo above, is made from authentic retro fabric purchased on ebay. These blocks have a low contrast, so the log cabin pattern is very subtle.

In the top below, featuring Kaffe fabric, the contrast is more striking.

Kate arranged the blocks to make a zig-zag pattern and framed it with a lovely piano key border.

Kate has never really machine quilted on a frame before. In the past she stuck to stitching lines on the machine and a bit of free-motion. But she was dreading the hassle of fighting with all the fabric under the arm of her sewing machine. And she very much wanted to finish the quilts in time for Uni. So she came to visit a little bit worried that she would not be able to do it.

She worried in vain! While I was pinning the quilt on the frame I had Kate do some doodling practice. She was going to use a mussel shell design and add some scalloping. So she practised first on a roll of paper. By the time the quilt was loaded she was ready to give it a go. The hardest part was 'hitting that red START button!' Well, Kate went from naught to 60 in about 1 hour. In no time at all she was confidently moving the carriage to create beautiful lines, 6 hours later Kate had fallen in love with texture and finished her first quilt.

Today we loaded the second top on the frame. Kate used the same line design with different thread and a looser pattern. After all the practice on the previous quilt, this was easy and Kate was finished in a couple of hours. Three days, two quilts. Not bad!

Kate was thrilled with the difference the quilting made. She's already looking forward to the next one.

Monday, 19 September 2011

There and back again

I took Emily to King's on Saturday. Despite living in England for nearly 25 years, I still get excited going to London. I'd rather have taken the tube or a taxi, but Emily had lots of stuff - so we drove through the city and across Blackfriars Bridge to get to her accommodation. She'll have to cross the bridge to get to classes. What a gorgeous view up and down the river!

We made it there just fine. Going back home was more challenging but I got there in the end.

Emily is happily settled in her little tiny room and and looking forward to sleeping under her beautiful quilt!

Friday, 16 September 2011

Cool Customer

I had a phone call from a textile artist a few days ago. She rang because doing free-motion embroidery sitting at the sewing machine was giving her a 'pain in the neck!'... and shoulders and back! She'd gotten to the point where she was desperate to find "a better way to do this!!" So she stumbled across our website and gave us a ring. I'm glad she did!

We designed the Art Quilter just for people like Lalla Ward - textile artists working on smaller projects who want to use a frame like an easel and a sewing machine needle like a paint brush. In describing her work Lalla said "Well actually, I paint with my needle." Lalla creates exquisite thread painted pieces and her new exhibition Migration is opening Monday at the National Theatre in London.

In Migration, Lalla is using textiles and ceramics as she continues to develop a wildlife theme. The dates are from Monday 19 September though to Sunday 30 October. Emily and I are hoping to sneak a peak when we drop Emily off at university this weekend. Quilting Arts magazine interviewed Lalla last year about an earlier exhibition titled 'Stranded'. You can follow the link to find out more about Lalla's work. Don't forget to catch Lalla's exhibition at the National Theatre from now through the end of October.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Emily's Quilt

Hi, I'm Emily. I'm just about to go off to University on Saturday. I haven’t quilted a quilt in about 6 years – I did a table runner a few months ago, but I hardly think that counts! Even so, I have been practising quilting for a good couple of years – since I started going to shows with my mom. At the shows, you’re demoing all day, three or four days in a row, so by the end you get to be pretty good. I've also been doodling for ages! In the last year, whenever we’ve had a meeting, we’ll always have about 10 minutes where we’re just doodling on the backs of our notes, comparing styles and thinking of different ways to use a design. So although I have never considered myself a quilter, I have done enough practise to make myself good at quilting certain designs.

In April, we had a machine quilter’s retreat, and there’s always a lot of doodling time. I got Trudi Woods to show me how she did a certain design, and when I tried to copy her, I made a mistake, which both of us thought actually looked quite nice, so it became a new quilting doodle! Trudi has gone on to use the design in lots of her quilts, but the fascinating thing is how different her version of the same design is to mine!

So I’ve been practising this design on paper, at shows, everywhere, for months. So it was really about time that I got it down onto a quilt! Mom and I decided to make a quilt as an ‘Emily-Goes-to-Uni’ kind of present, which gave us a deadline (this Saturday!) to work toward.

We decided to sew this extra black strip on one side of the top of the quilt as a place to practice my design and work out my tension before moving on to the quilt top. It was really useful to have the ‘side stage’ strip – so I could get my jerky beginning out of the way. Once I’d started quilting, it flowed very easily. The repetitive motion was, well, repetitive, but it required a certain amount of concentration - look out for that line, which way am I turning next? Right, that’s as far up as I can go, moving on, pause and swing, oh and breathe– if you forget to breathe you get to the end of a row and are gasping for air! Luckily, I remembered to breathe, but I still had to catch myself a couple times and take deeper breaths to relax my shoulders.

I also kept my design maximum one hand’s width tall, because I knew that as I got to the end of the quilt, I would only have about that much space to quilt with, so to keep everything looking even, I took care to watch out for the size of the design. Here I am at the very end. Even with the big roll of fabric under the arm of the machine. I still have plenty of room to execute my design. It helps that the JUKI TL98-P arm is two inches wider and taller than most sewing machines.

I cannot even begin to describe the importance of the ‘rise and fall’ method of quilting! This is quilting in a wavy line, rather than straight across. This is so important because it makes your quilt look like you haven’t quilted it in strips on a frame; it makes everything ‘dovetail’ together really rather seamlessly. To make my design merge properly, I did a lot of scalloping and echoing to fill in the spaces that weren't quite big enough for the whole, um, design. Some of my designs were bigger than others, they went in different directions, some had scalloping, some didn’t, but they all fit together and it looks lovely and complete.

In my breaks yesterday, I would stop once I’d finished two lines of quilting, three if I was on a roll ;) and go and practise the piano. I’m trying to learn a new piece by George Winston, and as you can imagine, there’s a lot of repetition involved in learning the piano too! It was nice actually, to go from one repetitive motion to another, because they were both very different; the quilting is a whole body kind of motion, but my hands are always kept still holding the sewing machine/Nifty Grips, whereas the piano requires me to sit very straight (good for my back!) and to move my fingers very fast, a lot. So it was good to switch between the two.

I had perfect tension all of yesterday, which was awesome. Then today, when I neared the finish line, something happened. I don’t know what, because I didn’t change anything about the sewing machine or the frame, but something changed. Suddenly, my tension underneath was pulling the top thread through and it looked nasty. The stitches weren't looking nice and weren’t held down properly, so they’d have come out if I washed the quilt. We used a mirror to see underneath. All was not well - we needed to do some unpicking!

We adjusted the tension on the sewing machine, so it was tighter on the top, and it helped a bit, but not enough. So we took the sewing machine off the frame, cleaned it out (there was quite a lot of fluff from the fleece in there!), put a new bobbin in, and oiled it. Then did some free-motion quilting on a practice piece off-the-frame to get any surplus oil out of the machine so it didn’t stain the quilt and to check that the problem had been solved. Luckily it had. I really hate quilting this way! It reminds me why we have a frame! Unluckily, I still had all these stiches that looked bad, so I had to sit there and unpick! It probably took three quarters of an hour to unpick a quarter of a line of stitching, which took me maybe 10 minutes to quilt. About halfway through my mom comments: So, whose idea was it to quilt such a complicated pattern? Thanks mom : )

After sorting the unpicking, I put the poles back into the frame, rolled them up, and started as if I’d never stopped. I had 'dancey' tunes playing, and everything was great. Finished in no time – and even signed my name!

Now I’m exhausted, yet ridiculously pleased with myself for actually quilting a quilt!!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Two Words

Box Feed! If I had just two words to say about the JUKI Exceed F600 sewing machine - it would be - Box Feed.

I'm talking here about how the sewing machine pulls the fabric under the needle. There are 'feed dogs' - I think the name comes from the 'metal teeth' that come up from underneath and grab the fabric. Combined with the action of the pressure foot, the feed dogs pull the fabric under the needle. Home sewing machine feeding systems use an oval motion to pull the fabric under the needle. But industrial sewing machines use a Box motion which has more contact with the fabric, so the feeding system is stronger and more consistent. OK, so what's the big deal?

Straight seams! Right now straight seams are a big deal! I've been piecing some tops to use in the next Line Dancing DVD. Two of the quilts tops involve lots of strip piecing and I was struggling with puckering, particularly at the start and stop of the line. I just put this down to 'user error' on my part and tried to fiddle with the tension without much success. I tried to iron out the puckers which only worked up to a point. In the end I was frustrated by the distortion and put the project to the side.

This is why I am so impressed with the JUKI Exceed. Right from the start, my seams were straight, perfectly straight. I rang up my sewing machine guy and started waxing lyrical about my sudden new found ability to sew straight seams and he began explaining how the box feed works. Now I feel great. Those wonky puckered seams were not my fault. The sewing machine guy explained that the puckering is due to a hesitation - caused by the oval feed movement. It just takes a bit longer to get hold of the fabric and this is what causes the puckering. The box feed used by the industrial machines has a firmer grip on the fabric so the feed is steady and even, creating a beautiful straight line of stitching.

I was really enjoying how easily those initial blocks came together. Later as I was piecing entire sections of the quilt. I was impressed with how easily the machine handled the heavier weight of the entire quilt. The even and consistent feed meant that my quilt came together straight and square.

JUKI sewing machines are the only domestic home machines with a Box Feed. I've been using the JUKI TL 98P for years on my New English Quilter frame. And the JUKI TL 98P also has a box feed system. But as I drop the feed dogs for free-motion quilting, I'd never used it! So I'd never realized just how great the box feed system was. Now I do!

Yesterday I finished piecing Emily's quilt for University. Today Emily is quilting it!

Friday, 9 September 2011

New Tools

Emily is off to University in a weeks time. So I thought that we'd better start on her quilt. We'd bought the fabric while we were at the Festival of Quilts.

I ordered some new tools from Creative Grids. It is such a pleasure to be using a new rotary cutter and ruler!

For the piecing I decided to try out a new sewing machine; the JUKI Exceed F600. We have the machine on loan for a DVD film shoot. But it was still in the box. A customer earlier in the week was raving about how fantastic it was for her dressmaking alteration business. So I decided that it might be fun to try it out for this project.

I do use the JUKI TL 98-P on my New English Quilter frame. And I love it! There is nothing else in the UK market that comes close to its performance on a frame. But I've found that I need 2 machines. I need a designated frame machine as I don't want to be taking a machine on and off the frame. And I need a machine for piecing and binding and general mending and sewing. Yesterday, I decided to try the JUKI Exceed F600 for piecing Emily's quilt. First I had to get it out of the box and set it up.

I am not one of those people who have a natural affinity for machines. So I opened the box with a certain amount of trepidation. I don't really enjoy reading directions. I was a bit worried that setting it up might be too frustrating. What a pleasant surprise! It was easy. The set-up from opening the box to sewing the first seam was less than 30 minutes.

The manual is brilliant! I'm not a 'read-the-manual-from-cover-to-cover-before-I-start' kind of person. I am not proud of this personality quirk. And I have a great appreciation for the people who do read the directions. I'm married to one and some of my kids are so inclined and they get me out of all kinds of trouble. Anyway, I need a manual that is clearly set out so I can find just the bits I need when I need them; like how to thread the machine. This was easy to find and very clear. There were also very clear diagrams on the actual sewing machine. Fantastic.

There is even a needle thread-er which I was able to work on the very first try just by following the pictures on the sewing machine! This was a total first for me! I tried and failed to use a sewing machine needle thread-er years ago and never tried again. I can't tell you how impressed I was. Yes, I was doing the 'happy dance'. My kids were even proud of me.

I have a sizeable collection of the larger thread cones. I use these for machine quilting but some of the ranges are ideal for piecing too. Thread is always less expensive yard for yard on the larger cones and I didn't want to be limited to using the smaller spools. So I set up a thread stand just to the back of the machine. The larger cones are cross wound which means that the thread needs to come off the top of the cone. So I ran the thread through the extended guide on the thread stand and then followed the thread guide directions on the machine. It worked just fine.

I also like to use pre-wound bobbins in the JUKI TL98-P when I machine quilt and I was delighted to find that the pre-wounds also work in the Exceed range.

I'll be posting more about this JUKI Exceed F600. Here are a few points to sum up the first impression. This is a well thought out machine. I would go so far as to call it intuitive and girl friendly. It was easy to set up. Easy to thread. Easy to get started. Because of that I got to spend lots of time piecing. This sewing machine is very very nice to piece with. But I'll post more about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


File:Pantograph animation.gif

A pantograph is an instrument for copying a drawing on a different scale using a system of jointed rods. It was a drawing room activity popularized by the Victorians. Now machine quilters with quilting frames use pantographs to copy a line design from a piece of paper onto their quilt tops.

It works like this. The line design is placed on the table beside the sewing machine. There is a stylus attached to the sewing machine carriage. The stylus can be simple like a metal rod or high tech like a laser. As you trace the design on the paper with the stylus, the sewing machine 'draws' the line design on the quilt. It's not quite as easy as this sounds.

What makes a line of stitching look good is the smooth flowing movement of the sewing machine on the New English Quilter carriage. This is true for free motion quilting. It's also true for copying a line design with a pantogaph. It's difficult to maintain the smooth flowing motion when you are trying to follow a line exactly. Try slavishly to follow a specific line, whether a pantograph design or even a line design marked on your quilt top, and your movements can become slow and jerky. This is turn gives an uneven and jerky line of stitching.

Following a line is a bit like riding a bike; you need a certain amount of speed to stay on. If you are too timid then you're more likely to fall off. The way round this is to practise tracing the design with the stylus over and over again. Practice is necessary to create a bold and flowing line of stitching and practice will give you the confidence to maintain the necessary speed. So you treat the pantograph design just as you would a free motion quilting design; practise tracing the pantograph design over and over again. These repetitive movements will develop your kinetic 'muscle memory'. Spend a full 10 or even 20 minutes on this 'brain patterning' activity before you start stitching and you pantograph designs with be much smoother.

There are many places on-line to purchase pantograph patterns. Try Golden Threads. It helps if the line design is not too complex. It's better to attempt something simple and execute it well. So start simple!

This is Karen - and the pictures above show Karen's pantograph practice. Looks great to me!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

New Retreats

We've found a brilliant new venue for our Machine Quilter Retreats! The Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa. Our retreats provide an opportunity to focus on machine quilting using our table top frame in a gorgeous rural setting, tucked away from the interruptions of daily life. The Petwood Hotel is our lovely new venue, giving us more room to spread out, so our numbers have now expanded to 12-15 participants! Follow the links for dates and pricing.

The theme of these retreats is FEATHERING! We have three teachers – Martha, Trudi and Anne, so there will be plenty of one-on-one attention. All are welcome, whether you just need some help getting started or inspiration to move up to a new level.

The food will be delicious, the rooms comfortable and the conversation rewarding. Please come and bring a friend!
Husbands are welcome too. Especially if they have any interest in WWII history, golfing, hiking the grounds or just reading the paper by the fire, there is plenty to keep them happy while you’re busy quilting.