Saturday, April 30, 2011


Sorry I left you hanging, but wrapping up the lacrosse season and registration for next school year has been keeping us busy.  My days have included a lot of this:

And this:

But I really did go sew as soon as I published that last post.  I sat down with all my tips from Jeri and took a deep breath.  I had left everything exactly as it was when I left the shop.  I took a practice sandwich and started quilting.  Ugh!  Horrible noise, bird nest under the fabric.  The thread must have come out from the tension discs during the ride home.

I re-threaded the machine and started quilting on my practice piece.  It was going smoothly for an inch or two, and I thought I might have it when...the bobbin ran out.  I had to turn off the machine and walk away at that point.  I was ready to pitch it all out the front window.

The next day I came back, wound a bobbin, re-threaded everything, and gave it another go.  SUCCESS!  IT WORKED!  I was so excited that I kept checking the back of the quilt to make sure it really worked.

The last of this batch of baby quilts is done.  Here they are:  Twin Engine I and II! 

This isn't the greatest shot.  I'm not sure why, with natural light and such high contrast quilts, I couldn't get a good picture. 

I also tried to get a close up of the quilting so you could see what's been tormenting me all these weeks. 

I wanted lots of swooping spirals to capture the feel of both the spinning instruments in an old plane, and also the freedom and movement of air currents.

I'm so happy with how they turned out, and feel like I've learned a lot in the process.  I'm looking forward to my next round of FMQing to see if it sticks. 

Now it's time to get my baby fix!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

FMQ Tips and Tricks from an Expert

As I have been whining about mentioned, I'm having issues with free motion quilting.  I have fought the good fight, but I needed help.

Monday I went on a field trip to Discover Sewing.  I bought my machine at their Sandy Springs location and have gotten some great help there; however, the teachers there are definitely more comfortable and familiar with machine embroidery and beautiful heirloom sewing than they are with quilting.  Sometimes when I go in there for help I feel like I know more about FMQing than they do.

I decided to try the location in Duluth.  Obviously no one can be an expert at everything, and with a small shop it's hard to have an employee/expert for every technique.   I called and made an appointment with Jeri.  Jeri, when I asked if she does a lot of quilting, says, "I do a lot of everything!"  So maybe I have found my expert.

Jeri gave me some great tips.  She sat down at my machine, started from scratch, and walked me through threading and the whole nine yards.  Sometimes when you've been sewing for a lifetime and quilting for 16 years, you don't think you need to revisit the basics.  That is not the case with me.  I think a lot of us who learned from a grandmother, mother, friend, etc. may have been shown the basics, but never really officially taught the "correct" or official way to do something.  Some of us *ahem* may also believe that we do not need to read the owner's manual or other instructions. 

For example, I have read a lot about the needle or presser foot being up or down when threading the needle.  Jeri told me that the presser foot has to be UP while you are threading the needle so that the tension discs are open.  Otherwise the thread might go off to the side.

She showed me how, after it is all threaded except for the eye of the needle, she puts the presser foot down and gives the thread a little tug.  If it is taut, then you know that the thread is between those discs.  If it pulls easily with the foot down, the thread didn't get seated in there quite right.  (With the foot up it will pull smoothly.) She explained that those awful nests on the underside of the quilt are almost always due to the thread being out of the tension discs or mis-threaded somewhere else.

I asked about the thread position.  She showed me how some spools have these little ridges (why?  WHY?) that the thread can catch on.  Make sure the thread comes off the other end if you have it horizontal.  But she said there aren't hard and fast rules anymore about horizontal v. vertical positioning because the thread manufacturers are using so many different types of equipment to wind thread.  You just have to experiment and see which way works best.

Jeri showed me how a cap that is bigger than the spool can cause the thread to get caught.  Use a cap that is the same size or smaller than your spool.  She also showed me how the thread sometimes gets twisted around the pin.  Her trick for avoiding that is to slide the spool almost to the tip of the pin.  Clever!

Another thing she showed me was how to use the needle threader on my machine.   In my new owner classes and having it in for service, no one told me this tip.  I have even had a teacher say that mine must not be working and needed adjusting.  Apparently it's not in the literature or website either.  The needle must be all the way up, in the highest possible position, for the needle threader to work.  (at least on the Pfaffs...but maybe on all machines.  I have no clue.)  The needle threader that I haven't been using for almost 2 years because I thought it needed adjusting worked perfectly every time today.

I've been round and round about my tension.  It turns out that, for whatever reason, my machine is defaulting to a 5.2.  But the same machine in the store is set on 4.6.  We got my machine sewing well at 5.2, but even better when we turned it down.  I will have to ask next time it is serviced if I can change the default setting, because that was one thing Jeri didn't know.  Jeri also told me that most of the tension issues with FMQing are with the user - either going too fast or too jerky or, most often, too slow.  She told me she tries to get a tune in her head while she's working to keep a steady rhythm going. 

We discussed needles and thread.  While this is so much about personal preference, Jeri says she uses cotton machine quilting thread with a size 90 quilting needle.  Just FYI.  She also mentioned that any shredding of the thread is usually a clue to change needles.  Usually it is a nick or break in the needle that you might not even be able to see.

I cannot even begin to thank Jeri enough.  When you're looking for a new machine and wondering if it's worth it to go to a dealer or just get the best price you can on eBay or the big box store, this is where it makes a difference.  They spent an hour with me and wouldn't let me pay them a dime - said they just wanted to make sure I was happy with my machine!

Now I'm off to see if I can finish the second Twin Engine quilt.  I hope to have awesome news to report back tomorrow - preferably that I'm DONE!

Wish me luck,

Thursday, April 7, 2011

One more DONE!

Still fighting with my machine on the second Twin Engine quilt, but I did manage to get See Greer Grow done.

 DONE done.

 With a label.

I was able to pass the quilt along to the elated grandma.  She is going to hand deliver it to Greer for me.  I only wish I could wrap that baby girl up in her quilt in person but, alas, Delta charges a heckuvalot to fly to California.

I'm going to have a session with a quilter at my sewing machine dealer on Monday to see if we can solve the other issues because I am also DONE with trying to fix it myself. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

FMQing or the Texas Two Step

So I told you I finished the first Twin Engine quilt, right?  It was a constant battle with my thread fraying and breaking every 4-6 inches.  A nightmare.  I couldn't understand since I duplicated the conditions that had finally let me finish Gracie's Orange Crush quilt.

After some advice on that post, I tried a bunch of different things.  The thread net didn't help, nor did positioning my thread horizontally vs. vertically.  (Thanks, LizA!)  I went to my local JoAnn's to find different needles to see if a topstitch needle would give me any better results than the machine embroidery needles.  I got incredibly lucky to have an actual quilter/employee who asked if I needed help.  I wish I had gotten her name so I could write a letter.  She walked me through exactly what was happening, what I was currently using, and solutions I had already tried. 

She pointed me away from the machine embroidery thread, claiming it is notorious for fraying - this was backed up by the WannaBees on Thursday - and suggested I try the Gutermann all sewing polyester thread.  Like many quilters, I flinched at the word "polyester," but figured I had already started down that slippery slope with the rayon so what the heck?

Imagine my shock when I quilted this entire quilt without the thread breaking a single time!  It was pure joy, and I finished all of the quilting in one day.  The picture above is a little bit of the back where it really shows up.  Now "See Greer Grow" has all but about half of the binding whipped down before it can be called DONE done, and the only quilt I have left to finish is the other Twin Engine quilt. 

Aaaaarrrrrgggghhhh!  I went and bought the identical thread, only in red.  I had taken a picture with my phone of the settings that worked, and made sure they were correct.  I put in a brand new needle out of the same pack as the one that worked, and cleaned my machine.  The fabric from these three quilts was all purchased at the same quilt shop, the batting is from the same piece, and they were all basted at the same time.  How does this happen?

In my search for answers, I did come across this fantastic article from Quilt University.  While the topic is difficult threads, I think there are a lot of different things in here for me to try.  I really want to get back to that bliss of FMQing my quilts.  It takes practice, but the only repetition I'm getting right now is threading my needle! 

One other thing I'm going to try is a Superior Thread.  I'll see a friend at guild on Monday night who's a rep, so I'm hoping she can help.  All the FMQers I envy swear by it, but it's not as easy to find.

Hope you have a beautiful weekend free of frustration. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

March Book List

Still not on track for my book a week, but hoping to fix that next week while the 2 of 3 kids are on Spring Break.

In March I read:

The Fleet Street Murders by Charles Finch.  This was a book my mother-in-law dropped off saying, "It was okay."  Well, thanks!  I picked it up in desperation one day when I had to go sit for 2 hours at lacrosse practice, and St. Teresa was going to require more attention than I could offer in the school parking lot.  I actually liked this mystery, set in England in the late 1800's. It's the third in a series, but stands alone well enough that you could read it out of order.

Living in the Power of the Holy Spirit by Rich Cleveland.  This was our winter/spring Bible Study, and one of my favorites of the last eleven years!  We got into some incredible discussions about our gifts and talents that is spilling over into next month. 

The Dead of Winter by Rennie Airth.   This was also in the stack my mother-in-law brought over, with only slightly more encouraging reviews.  The setting makes it much more interesting to me, taking place in London during WWII, but it is also the third in a series.  Again, it can stand alone; this is one where I'd actually like to read the others. 

What are you reading?

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