Wednesday, July 2, 2014

WIP: Longarm Lessons with the Grinch

I rented time on a longarm machine, a Handiquilter Avante 18, and quilted my Grinch quilt on Friday.

I had practiced what patterns I was going to quilt - ocean waves, Lazy L's, and cursive grinch's.

Those plans went out the window and I just ad libbed and quilted by the seat of my pants. Instead of the precise waves graduating in size that I envisioned, my waves changed willy nilly in size, direction, and orientation as I fit them in. Lazy L's gave way to meandering. I never did quilt in the word "grinch" in neat cursive penmanship as I had intended. I am glad my first attempt on a long arm was my Grinch quilt since its randomness is very Seussian.

Here are some of the quilted sections of the Grinch quilt. This is the first block I did in the upper left corner. I originally was just going to outline the images but the white looked so naked I spontaneously did some waves inside it. You can still see the green stitched outline around the black ink hatchings of the Grinch's cave.

This block was not one of my favorites because I stretched my creativity a bit too far by selecting the red and yellow check framing. But I think it is my favorite for how the FMQ on the white part turned out. The mixture of waves and meanderings looks like something that came from a Dr Seuss book. The green thread FMQ does not show up on the wild check. Hmm, I wonder why...

On this block I like the meander in the white and the way the waves show up on the striped green framing. Waves were, after all, the original plan but they were not intended to flip randomly between clockwise and counter clockwise. Obviously I did not quite know what to do in the red inner frame and so just wiggled around a bit on three side before attempting mini-waves on the top. I need more practice on stopping and thinking.

I almost got the meander right in these white sections. I only crossed myself once in the fireplace image when I worked myself into a corner.

My self critique on this one follows: in the red outer frame - good waves, in the white part of the image - decent meandering, and in the green inner frame - what the @#$% was I thinking! I just filled space. It was the last block on the quilt. I was tired. The whole quilt took me 4.5 hours, during which I did a lot of standing and stressing and rethinking, but I really did a lot of learning.

In an earlier Grinch post (dated May 22, 2013) I had prepared a red plaid binding that I was not quite sure about, thinking it was maybe too formal. I did change my mind and made a new binding out of the green spots backing fabric. 

I've attached the green binding, hand stitched it to the back, and all that remains is the label. My husband held it up for me to photograph in our backyard. I just noticed that it added a lot of green to our landscaping which is suffering from our California drought. The sides really are parallel. I just take poor pictures. Here is my Grinch quilt. Finally. The size ended up approximately 45"x72". My first post on it was almost three years ago, way back in November of 2011. Now I can truly say it is Christmas in July.

In quilting this Grinch quilt on a longarm, I learned a lot in two kinds of lessons -  advance thinking and planning for the quilting pattern and basic lessons on machine operation. I captured these lessons learned in the following two lists. I hope they help me remember for my next time on a longarm.

List A on Advance Thinking: Very eye opening were the lessons I learned on planning. Someone may have told me these but they did not sink in until I was hands-on with a real quilt of my own.
  1. Square up the backing. Since two opposite edges are pinned to the leaders they should be parallel. Fortunately I had cut mine with a rotary cutter so they were parallel but often times when I just free motion on my domestic I do not need the top and bottom parallel as long as I have extra fabric.
  2. Consider the throat space. Somehow in my mind I had the impression of far less limitation by throat space on a long arm. My Grinch block size was larger than the roller spacing so I could not do a continuous wave around it as I had planned. Long sashings and borders cannot be done continuously unless parallel to rollers.
  3. Loading direction can mean fewer passes. I thought I wanted to write the word "grinch" and so wanted to look at my quilt right side up. Had I turned it sideways and loaded the longer side edges, I would have had fewer passes and could possibly have done those waves as I wanted them around the block.  
  4. Stitch predominently left to right. Stitching right to left can cause a twist buildup in your top thread that causes it to break. The third time is the charm. It took me two breakages to learn this. I am sure I will forget it for next time.
  5. Take a cell phone picture of what is quilted before rolling it up. I could not go backwards until the very end since those three layers (top, batting, back) that I'd just quilted together could not be split. And, since I'd deviated from my original plan, I had a devil of a time remembering what I'd done.
  6. Needle size is larger on a longarm due to high stitching speed. When holding the quilt up in the sunshine to photograph I noticed sunlight shining through the holes where the quilting stitches were. Upper and lower thread tension seemed balanced. Maybe I had it too tight in the quilting frame? Perhaps I should have chosen a fabric print busier that the fairly plain extra wide green spots fabric I used for backing and binding? Maybe the backing fabric was too light a weight or too loose a weave? Maybe the needle was getting dull? The pinholes are not visible when the quilt is not backlit and optimistically, I suspect they will close up once I wash the quilt. 
List B on Basic Lessons: I'd taken a certification class to use the machine but I needed help remembering the details of the basic lesson on machine operation. This brief list is mainly a reminder to me of what I did. There are many excellent tutorials out there on line taught by experts rather than by a newbie like me.
  1. Loading - pinning two edges of backing and one edge of quilt top to leaders on three rollers - using side clamps 
  2. Threading order for top thread
  3. Winding the bobbin using a separate winding device 
  4. Installing bobbin in correct orientation
  5. Using needle up-down button for basting
  6. Using start-stop button to quilt - unlike a car or a sewing machine you touch on and touch off, not hold to keep on.
  7. Working the releases of the rollers to advance the quilt

For my statistics this week I note that I am chipping away at my backlog of quilt tops to be quilted with only three left. The chicken and overlapping squares are on the small side. I am itching to start something new and I am not quite sure that assembling that mask fabric quilt will do the trick.

Completed projects (1):
  1. Grinch quilt
Ongoing projects (4):
  1. Mask quilt (October 19, 2011 post) - hidden away awaiting inspiration for arranging hexagons
  2. Chicken quilt - spray basted, awaiting embellishment (April 24, 2014 post)
  3. Classic Cars strip quilt (August 3, 2013 post) - need to back, quilt, and bind
  4. Overlapping square wall hanging - awaiting FMQ
New projects (1):
  1. Contemplating a nautical themed baby quilt

1 comment:

  1. This was really interesting to read about. I of course have never used a long arm, and only seen the amazing work you can find from pros on the web, but I guess I never really thought about the learning curve--makes sense that there would be one of course! Great job, and good luck on your future endeavours with it--and great choice on the green binding. It looks great!