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Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Learning Experience

Brace yourselves - I've been humbled.

When I first took up quilting, I couldn't for the life of me understand why people didn't do more adventurous machine quilting. Why longarm quilters seemed obssessed with continuous line patterns. And why quilters everywhere seemed to love doing baby quilts and wall hangings.

Well, I can now say I finally understand.

There have been a number or births recently among my family and friends. I was bemoaning how many years I was behind in quilting, how I wanted to give baby quilts but I had such a backlog...

Well, this week I made three baby quilts. The first one went together easily - all 4-inch squares from a precut set. Add borders, quilt on the diagonal, and bind.

Then I discovered in my stash two Laurel Burch panels, each with 9 images of cats with kittens, including baby carriages.

Now, in quiltspeak, a panel is a "cheater." But I've just mostly finished the first panel, and boy, did I learn some lessons doing it!

Firstly, I thought I'd never get through it. Because of course, I wasn't quilting this one on the diagonal, I was outlining all the animals and flowers.

And, since I'm no longer a beginner, I left the beginning and ending threads nice and long so I could later bury them in the quilt.

Lesson one: machine quilters use continuous line patterns because then they don't end up with five million threads to knot and bury!

I sat down with my panel and began to clip threads at eight o'clock this evening. It is now midnight, and I've just finished.

Actual hand quilting is soothing. Tying off the ends of hundreds of threads is not. It is tedious, uncomfortable, and boring.

About half way through I wanted so badly to just clip all those thread ends, like I used to, before I knew what I was doing! Who am I kidding - this thing ain't gonna be around for a hundred years! Why didn't I just backtrack over the seam ends and cut the damned things?

Because (unfortunately) I now know better. So I threaded, tied, buried, and clipped. For four hours. And the sad part is, there is more quilting to do on it again tomorrow. But at least the worst is over for now.

I also gained a flash of insight into why people quilting on home machines don't do more adventurous quilting - lots of twisting and turning and creative stuff. Becuase the stupid basting threads keep getting snagged, that's why! Had I been quilting on the diagonal, this thing would have been finished in an hour! But it took four hours to quilt it, plus the four hours to clip the threads!

I even tried out the free motion foot - wisely testing it out on spare fabric. And I couldn't get the tension right for the bottom thread. And yes, I put the presser foot down to adjust the tension. I have no problem doing free motion sewing on my home machine - except the bobbin thread lies flat as a pancake on the reverse side. 

A few years ago, I would have just used the free motion foot, damn the tension!

But I know better now. Now I want the reverse side to look nice.

So I went back to the regular foot, with a renewed understanding of why most quilters who use home machines don't go in for fancy stuff. Lesson two.

And as to lesson three - why quilters prefer to make wall hangings and baby quilts? Because you can finish them on your home machine and they don't take half a year to make.

I don't know which of the seven babies born recently will be getting my three baby quilts. But I'm glad I made them. I'm glad I took a break from the other projects that have been weighing me down. Back to them next week.

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