For the longest time after I started making quilts, I tied them. The thought of hand quilting (takes too long) or machine quilting (looks too complicated) intimidated me. Now there’s nothing wrong with tying quilts. In fact, we have a tutorial on our website: Quilts Fit to Be Tied.
But the more quilts I made, the more I knew I wanted them to be quilted, not tied—I could see how much the actual quilting added to the overall design and I knew it would help my quilts last longer. My desire to learn to machine quilt overtook my fear of the unknown.
I started reading about machine quilting and realized it wasn’t as complicated as I thought.
The first book I bought was Machine Quilting Made Easy by Maurine Noble—because “easy” is what I was looking for, right? And I did pretty good with straight line quilting, using a walking foot. But I was intimidated by the idea of free motion quilting.
So I took a machine quilting class at my local quilt shop using that book and learned that quilting by machine can be really fun. I don’t know where my sample exercises are from this class anymore, but I do know it gave me confidence to move on to quilt my own quilt tops.
Of course, what I wanted to quilt next was a twin quilt top (actually two of them!) for Christmas presents for my nephews. Never one to start small and work my way up to a larger quilt, I wrestled with two bed sized quilts as my first real attempts at machine quilting.
First up was the Spiderman quilt. I decided to quilt spirals over the kaleidoscope blocks to create a web effect.
It may be hard to see, but some of my stitches were pretty long, some were very short, and occasionally, they looked pretty good.
The even spirals in my mind wobbled quite a bit on the quilt. But I quilted it myself and my nephew never knew that the machine quilting wasn’t quite perfect.
Next up was the Outer Space quilt. I found “Celestial Overall” quilting design in 250 More Continuous-Line Quilting Designs by Laura Lee Fritz. I really like her pictorial designs and especially was drawn by the idea of continuous line designs so I didn’t need to lift the needle to begin a new design.
I adapted this design so that I was quilting the moon, sun, star and planets into the corners of the star blocks.
Again some of the faces were pretty good, and some were a bit wobbly. But this quilting was denser and I was very pleased with the overall quilting on this one, my second twin size quilt.
Fast forward a few years after I began working at Quiltmaker . . . I ran into the book, Meandering Magic self-published by Suzanne Earley. I really appreciate her method where she first quilts a giant meander and then uses that meander as a path or spine to add more quilting.
A few years later, my nephews had each made their own quilt tops for the bunk beds in their camper. A bit smaller than a standard twin size, I used Suzanne’s method and was very happy with how both of these turned out.
First the Wildfire quilt with a giant meander and then flame quilting using the meander as a spine to follow (roughly shown in black).
Then the Ocean Waves quilt with a giant meander (again shown in black) and echoing lines around the spine. There are some similarities to the Spiderman quilting, but this time I knew to quilt the lines closer together and achieved denser quilting over this one.
While I appreciate the beauty of intricate and precise quilting, when I’m quilting for myself, I like the freedom and improvisation that comes from quilting overall designs and freehand motifs without marking. I’ve learned that the more I practice, the more pleased I am with the results.
My next challenge? I know how to write “. . . quilt beautiful feathers . . .” in a pattern, but I can’t quilt beautiful feathers. I’m looking forward to improving my quilted feathers when Quiltmaker’s Year of Machine Quilting gets to feathers. What part of quilting challenges you? Leave a comment and let us all know.
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As part of Quiltmaker’s Year of Machine Quilting in 2014, staff members will share some of their early machine quilting experiences. Read more Year of Machine Quilting blog posts. Find more lessons, ideas and inspiration at quiltmaker.com/machinequilting.