A Practice Piece for My Practice Piece
This week I had some time to set aside to just practicing free motion quilting, and I decided to work through the book Quilting Wide Open Spaces by Judi Madsen. (When I bought this book, I didn’t realize it is aimed at long-arm quilters, and I just have a domestic machine. It has a CD of the patterns but that is not something I can use. But, it has some nice patterns and I thought I should be able to copy them.)
I don’t know why, but the hardest thing about practicing for me is choosing and using the materials. I can blithely start work on a quilt that is going to end up costing me a couple of hundred dollars, but to set aside a package of batting and some big scraps just for practice? It goes against my inclinations, I keep thinking “I could do something better with this.” If I go to the other end of the stash spectrum and pull out some old (1980s) ugly fabrics that need to be used up, I can’t bear to use those either because I know I won’t be able to look at them for the amount of time I will be practicing!
When I was at the College Station quilt show six weeks ago, I bought big bags of scraps in solid colors, telling myself that they were just for practice. So I pulled them out and started browsing through the book. Madsen recommends using a double thickness of Hobbs 80/20 batting, to make the unquilted areas pop up. I had hardly any batting scraps, and had to break into a new package. Quelle horror. I just kept telling myself, “Six dollars, that only costs six dollars, surely that is a small price to pay to get better effects on a real quilt.”
It didn’t take too long to make a practice piece of the scrap strips, flipped and stitched to the batting and a backing.
But I wasn’t sure if I would be able to maneuver the piece through my domestic sewing machine, since the batting was doubled.
I needed a practice piece before I could make my real practice piece!
I found a giant piece of fabric in a pinkish-gray color, and sandwiched it with a double layer of batting. (I really didn’t think anyone would ever want that color in their quilt, and yet I could stand to look at it for a few hours.) I chose some of the quilting patterns from the book and marked them on the fabric, trying out the Frixion pen and the Bohn mechanical chalk pencil I had also picked up at the quilt show.
Then I went to work, trying to answer these questions:
- can I manage the double batting?
- do I prefer 40 or 50 weight thread?
- 90/14 or 100/16 top-stitching needle?
- is it better for me to work left-to-right and right-to-left? or back-and-forth?
- how much marking do I need to achieve the patterns I want?
- how long can I work on one stitching pattern before I get bored and want to move on to another one?
After I had quilted most of the available space, I also experimented with Derwent Inktense pencils and textile medium, Jacquard Dynaflow paints, and Golden acrylic paints to see if I could camouflage some of the areas where I didn’t like the quilting lines I had sewn, not to mention hide that pinky-gray color. I did have problems with the pigment bleeding beyond the quilting lines I was trying to use as a boundary, and the colored-in areas feel stiff to me too. They would probably be fine for some sort of art quilt, but I don’t think I would want them on a quilt that was meant for use.
The double batting didn’t seem to cause any difference in my being able to move the quilt through the machine easily. Where I quilted closely though, it feels very stiff, not drapy at all. And outside the quilting lines, there was so much puffiness that I was afraid I would get puckers if I tried to quilt any more lines.
Those Fil-tec Glide bobbins I am using still seem to make the quilting flow so much more smoothly, so I decided I could move on to the strippy piece. I am still trying to answer the same questions as I stitch, as well as some new ones:
- how does it look to combine 40 weight and 50 weight thread in the same area?
- do I like bright thread colors on dark fabrics? dark colors on lighter fabrics? thread that matches the fabric?
- can I just make up quilting motifs on the spot? (And the answer to that one – NOOOO! See the widest blue strip below.)
I am about half done with the strippy practice piece. I am not liking it much as this point. I can safely say that the quilting stitches are not adding any value to the overall effect. I think it may have looked better as just the strips of fabric. But it is practice, and at least I am enjoying the process of stitching and moving the quilt around more than I have before. I can see the potential. We will see if I decide that I want to put more time into improving, or if I decide to stick with really basic straight stitching.