Quilting. . . and a Sticky Question

Facets Quilting_1

It begins here.  I printed off a picture of my quilt, then took a fine-point sharpie to “quilt” in the designs I thought I would do.

Facets Quilting_2

Then this happens.  Over and over, on each row.  For every hour quilting, I spent half an hour unpicking.  Wrong color thread.  Wrong pattern.  Wrong shape.  Wrong style.

Facets Quilting_4

Finally, things start working.

Facets Quilting_3

Facets Quilting_5

I admit it.  The last row got stippled, as I was pretty tired and my shoulders hurt from quilting.

Facets Quilted_1

I put it up on the pin wall, but something’s not working.

Three Tries for Facet

I pin up different centers–hard to see on this small picture, but I know it’s the center.  I call in my resident quilt expert.  “Looks nice,” he says, in the same tone of voice as when he answers the question “Does this make me look fat?”  I know now what is wrong, but I am loathe to admit it.  I turn out the light and go to bed.

Facets unpicking_1

In the morning, I pick up my seam ripper.  Unpicking dense quilting gives you a chance to think.  A lot.  Here comes the sticky question, but first the set-up.  I own a good-quality Viking/Husqvarna sewing machine, but it was purchased before we all started quilting so much on our quilts, even though it is called the Quilt Designer.  After three tries, I finally found the foot that works for me, the tension, the everything to allow me to quilt on my machine.  But my quilting doesn’t look like Judi Madsen’s on The Green Fairy, or on other blogs that I haunt.  And I know why: my domestic sewing machine, without a stitch regulator, cannot compare to what a long-arm can do.  Or even a baby long-arm.  It’s just me and the thread, me and the pedal, my hands moving supposedly in sync with the speed of the machine.

But it’s not enough anymore, is it?

Facets unpicking_2

What was wrong with the middle was my quilting.  The shape of the fern, the stitches that hover near even, but occasionally veer into very small or a bit-too-big, the whatever–it was just wrong.  Free-Motion Quilting — the REAL free-motion quilting, has its warts, showing the artisan behind the tool.  But that’s not what we are after anymore, is it?  We want perfection: no bobbles, no wobbles.

So after three hours of unpicking, I am back here.  And the reality of where our industry is heading today is that if I want a quilt that I feel I can enter in a show, or display wherever, I’ll have to step up on the quilting front, because no matter how you look at it, the ones with the bigger, more extensive machines with stitch regulators will always have it over me on my little domestic machine. Because of the limitations of my tools, I don’t know if I can make it right.

But I’ll try.


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13 thoughts on “Quilting. . . and a Sticky Question

  1. Oh my, you poor darling! I don’t feel perfection is part of ‘free motion’ quilting, especially for those of us that use domestic machines. I personally think that that is what makes each of our quilts unique!! You CAN do it!

  2. Leo Lionni said: “. . . In fact, they were faultless. But to my eyes . . .they lacked the one ingredient European designers were always aiming for–the subtle imperfection that testifies to the presence of the shaping hand.”

  3. Listen, I do have a Gammill now but I quilted a BUNCH of quilts on my dsm before my longarm. Never used a SR, rarely do now except for ruler work. There is nothing “wrong” with your quilting! Gettting the hang of regulating the brain,hands and foot petal takes time, lots of.time. Its the same principle on a dsm or a longarm. Its all in the hands,the brain and the speed. No difference.
    Have you checked out Leah Day’s blog? Tons of tutorials there, all on the dsm.
    Another tip for removing stitches….toss the seam ripper. Buy the short Fiskars scissors and snip every 5 or 6 stitches. Then pull the threads,they come right out. No damage to the fabric at all. So throw that silly seam ripper away!

    I love your blog and your quilting is just fine! Quilt on :0)

  4. I think you’re being way too hard on yourself about this. First, your free motion looks beautiful and perfect on that quilt. Second, the ones you are comparing yourself to are generally using regular-sized long-arms or occasionally the newer mini’s and that is a game changer. With a long-arm you are driving the machine and with your sweet Viking you are driving the fabric and, to me, that’s a huge difference.

  5. We are always hardest on ourselves, your quilting looked fine to me. I tend to agree with what Betty said re: driving the fabric, I think it is a lot harder to draw by moving your hands as opposed to moving the needle on a long-arm.

    There are plenty of quilters using a domestic sewing machine (without stitch regulators) that are turning out fantastic quilting (Diane Gaudynski for one) it just takes a lot of practise. I have a stitch regulator on my Bernina which I am still getting used to and there are still long stitches and short stitches in my fmq, but I’m getting there, just need more practise (and more practise)

  6. I loved your quilting, and agree with everything said above me. But I will also say…I understand. My first (first!) entirely free-motion-quilted quilt is half-finished, because I don’t like the look of the loops but I can’t bring myself to tear them out. I don’t have a long-arm, I’ve only been quilting 1.5 years, and I’m a more-or-less newlywed who just got a job and can’t afford a long arm, much less put one in my house. BUT the engineer in me…the OCD, strive-for-perfection self I struggle with in every aspect of life…hates my FMQ progress on my little cheap Walmart Brother dsm. So, I understand the desire and need to pick out those stitches…but eventually, I have to just live with them. Because I’m not getting a long-arm any time soon, and I can’t afford to send them away to a professional. Maybe, being able to see the professional quilts (which are BEE-A-YOU-TEE-FULL for sure!) makes us feel worse about our own…but they’re still ours. And I, for one, have decided to be happy with that. Life’s too short to be miserable.

  7. I feel the same way- I have entered quilt shows and what looks awesome at the time and is really very good for a home machine (blowing my own trumpet here) is no where near as good as if I had some kind of frame and carriage system, it’s the way the quilt moves in the machine rather than the other way round.

  8. I get so frustrated with my machine. It’s not made for quilting so I have resigned myself to straight lines with a walking foot. If I want something special, I send it out : )

  9. Well, I would have left it and thrown it in the wash. I don’t think we need to all have a long arm (despite how much I want one) nor do we all have to quilt like the star long arm quilters. But I think fmq is like many things, it takes practice and we don’t practice enough. Remember the thing about 10,000 hours to become good at something. I bet you have pieced for more hours than that, but the fmq, not so much. Me neither. Maybe we need to make a plan to practice more.

  10. I know I’ve definitely shared a lot of those thoughts and feelings. I’ve gotten to a point (for now) where I accept the fact that I don’t have 8 bazillion hours to practice my quilting (let alone piecing) either on a dms or long arm. I also cannot afford to send my quilts for custom work either. So at this point I really enjoy my minis and art quilts because the idea of ‘perfection’ doesn’t seem as important in those kinds of quilts. And I don’t expect to compete in the shows. I’ve noticed that the winners, either local or national, have a lot more Time than I have to devote to their work. They also don’t generally have quantity, makes me wonder a little if they quilt for ‘fun’ at all, or if its all about the show quilts. I could go on, but I’m starting to ramble a bit 😉

  11. Seems like that’s the trouble … the limitless inspiration of quilt-blog-land can lead to a little bit of perfectionism and discontent. I FMQ on my couple of regular sewing machines, and that’s how my quilting will get done for years to come, I think. Yep, it’s imperfect, but that’s OK. I’ve come such a long way; I’m making beautiful and useful things; and I’m loving the process. And I admire the talents of Leah Day and Amanda Jean Nyberg, and the wonderful things they can do with “just” a regular sewing machine. Your quilting is amazing keep up the good work.

  12. I don’t think your quilting was the problem, or that it wasn’t good enough, because it certainly was! I think the problem was the quilting design, because the four ferns pointed toward the center, competing with the piecing design, that radiates outward. Plus, if this is a “show” quilt, to hang on a wall, it needs a fancy focal point in the center. If it’s going to be used, and washed, it needs utilitarian quilting that enhances the design. That’s what your dsm does, and what you do very well. IMHO, of course!

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