The Truth About Longarming: Part 1

The truth about longarming is that I’m scared of it. It’s been nearly a year since I got my longarm and so far I’ve longarmed one large quilt (badly), no more than half a dozen practice pieces (middlingly), and one mini-quilt (not too badly, actually). I’m struggling to remember when I even turned the machine on last. It must have been in late April, when I quilted the bookshelf mini.

My longarm is the most expensive thing I have ever bought outright. Other than a car that I owned for less than two years, it’s the most expensive thing I have ever bought, period. I scrimped like a crazy person to buy this machine. I spent an entire year making and taking lunches to work, which I’d never managed to accomplish in twenty years of working. I set aside every extra penny I had even when I didn’t so much have it, I bought pretty much nothing for myself during that year. I borrowed nearly €3,000 from the Germ because I had to have it RIGHT THEN instead of waiting a few more months until I had saved the entire amount (€10,000), and I spent months scrimping some more to repay him. And since then I’ve mostly used it as a hanger. This is a very sad state of affair, my friends.

1I’m not sure why I decided that I had to have a longarm, but I’m pretty sure that in the back of my mind, other than the conceivable fun factor, I had hoped to make a little bit (ok, a lot) of money with it, as part of my plan to escape the misery of my day job. So far I’m €105 in, on a job I offered to do for free to get some practice. Be that as it may, I’m not regretting the purchase, I’m just regretting my own fears and the time I’ve wasted.

2It’s hardly a mystery why I’m afraid, it’s not even original: I don’t like being bad at things and I get frustrated when I can’t master something quickly.

I was listening to Kim Werker* on the Crafty Planner podcast recently and she’s an advocate of allowing yourself to be bad at things, so here’s the plan. I’m going to be actively bad at this and I’m going to embrace the ugly, because eventually it won’t be.

I’m setting myself some specific goals (well, I’m thinking of the specifics, as it were), and I’m going to report about my progress here, so watch this space.

* Kim Werker is pretty awesome. Go read her book, Make It Might Ugly.

July Quilt Block for Stash Bee

This was a fun one! Although I’m loathe to admit it, this solids thing isn’t the absolute worst.

To put this block together, you cut seventeen 4.5″ squares in a range of white-grey-black and one 4.5″ square in a bright colour. Toss them all in a paper bag and randomly pull a pair and make an HST (line down the diagonal, sew 1/4″ on either side, cut, trim to 3.5″). Once all the squares have been turned into HSTs, set aside one of the coloured HSTs and another random one (they’re extras) and put the whole lot back in the bag. Pull a pair of HSTs out, sew it randomly together, and so on and so on, until you have a 4×4 block.

Random HSTs

Random HSTs

Kiwi says Hi!

Hi!

Hi!

I’ll talk a bit more about the frame in another post.

Bookshelf Mini Quilt

My friend Cathy, mother of Rachel and Louise, turned fifty recently and I had to commemorate the occasion. Cathy is an incredible writer, so I decided to make her a bookshelf mini, which hopefully she can hang in her writing shed.

Rainbow Bookshelf

Rainbow Bookshelf

I loosely followed the tutorial by Don’t Call Me Betsy and was fortunate to have lots of selvages, sent to me completely gratis by the lovely Alison of Little Island Quilting. (Speaking of Alison, go buy her book, it’s hilarious!)

Book titles

Book titles

The titles are fused on using double-sided fusible and then top-stitched.

I then took this baby to the longarm (which I have used embarrassingly little since forking over all of my savings) and went to town.

Quilting Detail 1

Quilting Detail above the shelf

Quilting Detail below the shelf

Quilting Detail below the shelf

AND! For the first time in nearly five years of quilting, I made a quilt label! My sources tells me it’ll fade because all I did was laser print directly on the fabric without any kind of fixative, but I left it to soak in water for a full day and there was no running or fading, so I’m hoping it’ll stay put. Names unskillfully removed via photo editing to protect the innocent.

Quilt label

Quilt! Label!

Catching Up With Stash Bee Quilt Blocks

I’ve been enjoying the stash bee and am looking forward to being Queen Bee next month. I have my block picked out and I’m happy to report it’s not one that’s been done by anyone this  year. Yay!

Here’s a quick catch-up on what I’ve done so far.

In February I made this “low volume” star block for Ruth. I… don’t really have much in the way of low-volume fabric, but Ruth seemed to like it anyway!

February block for Ruth

February block for Ruth

In March I made this paper-pieced Union Jack block for Toni (@gypsygirl6923 on Instagram). Paper piecing is not for me, friends, but I concede that it produces perfect results. I’m avoiding any and all Brexit cracks here and you should know it’s really hard.

Union Jack block for Toni

Union Jack block for Toni

In April June I made these awesome cross blocks for Jennifer (@jabloxham). They may have gone in the post only this past weekend, but they were really fun to make, even though they have solid fabrics, which I typically avoid.

Cross block for Jennifer

Cross block for Jennifer

In May I made this fun star block for Rose (@rosebraun914). It came together so easily that I actually made a pair.

May block for Rose

May block for Rose

Officially in June, I made this green star for Em (@moonlightsewing). It barely made a dent in my green scraps.

Green scrappy star for Em

Green scrappy star for Em

Thanks for picking fun, challenging blocks, bee mates!

Louise’s Quilt

Remember the  Loulouthi Tiles quilt that I made for Rachel’s 18th birthday? You’ll recall that my idea for the quilt and my friend’s idea were… not quite the same. But she promised me that I could make the happy rainbow quilt I had envisioned for her second daughter, who was a wee lass of 14 back then, and was as happy as sunshine! And good god, I guess I’m getting old because Louise just turned 18!

I used the same pattern as the Whine and Cheese quilt but made it scrappy with as little repetition as possible. I had most of what I needed in my stash, but this is where my colour preferences reared their ugly head: I have practically no orange, blue, or purple scraps. So I begged for some scraps from friends, bought a bit of fabric while I was at the European Quilt Meeting, and eventually managed to cobble together just enough fabric for the top. Once I had all my pieces, putting the quilt top together didn’t take all that much time. Luckily, the one piecing mistake I made was at the outer corner so fixing it was not a problem.

For the back I decided to go with a more reasonably scaled big-square pattern, similar to the one I used for my brother’s quilt, but, to no one’s surprise, in a rainbow range. The one block that stands out is the dedication my friend embroidered. It was just a bit too small so I added two borders to it to get it to fit the scale. I love how the dedication block breaks up the rainbow range.

Quilt Back. Cat butt thrown in for free.

Can't decide which side of this quilt I like better!

Can’t decide which side of this quilt I like better!

I quilted this one the same way I had Whine and Cheese, with a straight grid in the sashing.

Quilting detail. I love a good straight line.

Quilting detail. I love a good straight line.

The binding is made of the trimmings from the quilt back.

Unclear when I became a person who enjoys hand binding.

Unclear when I became a person who enjoys hand binding.

We went to England in December so we delivered it then, well ahead of the birthday. Sadly but unsurprisingly, it chucked it down the entire time we were there so my plans to take it on a photo shoot in beautiful Avenham Park in Preston were very much foiled. Instead, here are some shots taken in a rather dark Premier Inn hotel room :(.

Love a scrappy binding.

Love a scrappy binding.

Scrap happiness.

Scrap happiness.

And here are some pictures of the quilt in the sunny wilds of England, courtesy of my friend.

The quilt on an actual sunny day in England.

This one shows the top of the backing grid. Some favourite fabrics in this one.

This one shows the top of the backing grid. Some favourite fabrics in this one.

Tula Pink Saltwater Quilt

Saltwater quilt

Back in 2012, in the early days of my (decidedly one-sided) love affair with Tula Pink, I bought a fat-quarter set of the Saltwater fabric collection, which I promptly left to marinate for three years because it was too stressful to cut into. But when I got a half-square triangle die for my Accuquilt a few months ago I went to town with it.

Although I have issues with the accuracy of the Accuquilt, for which many helpful people on Instagram provided useful tips (which I appreciate but will not be following because (a) I am lazy and (b) I didn’t buy the stupid thing to generate more work for me), I’ve become a confident enough quilter to know how to fix those kinds of problems when piecing.

Inspired by this gorgeous quilt by Sarah at coopcrafts* I combined the saltwater triangles with a variety of white-on-white fabrics, so even though the overall effect from afar is plain white, up close you can see the different patterns. Cutting the entire quilt top took maybe an hour or two, and piecing it was a complete breeze, since the die eliminates dog ears and there’s no need to mark anything.

Chain piecing action shot

Chain piecing action shot

Schnitzel helped.

Schnitzel helped.

You don’t really need these right now, do you?

After I started cutting into the set I realized that I had an unequal number of FQs in each of the three colourways, which meant I had to be creative when laying out the quilt and which I think I managed.

Layout

For the back, I loosely followed Elizabeth Hartman’s Mod Mosaic tutorial to create a long strip made from the leftover scraps.

I love this fabric line unreasonably much.

I love this fabric line unreasonably much.

After I made a strip the width of the quilt I edged it with some Saltwater strips from yardage I had purchased on other occasions (truth: this is the only Tula Pink fabric line that I actually like. I find the others super-intricate, but equally creepy. Elizabeth? EEP), and then finished off the back with some more white-on-white fabric pieces.

That's a very subtle light-blue thread.

It took longer to make the scrappy strip than it did the entire quilt top.

Saltwater quilt back

I used straight-line quilting to outline each square with matching thread and used a new-to-me thread, Mettler, which I was really pleased with. Unfortunately, this kind of quilting leaves ton of threads to bury, which normally I would bury as I go, except that I’m a dumbass and cut a super-hot chili with bare fingers the morning I started quilting, and my hands were ON FIRE for well over twelve hours, making it impossible to do anything more precise than shoving the quilt in and out of my machine. You’ll be pleased to know that dipping my hands in a vat of after sun and aloe vera made the pain go away a few minutes before midnight. Anyway.

P1040280

That’s very light blue thread on the right.

For the binding I used a method I came across on Instagram and had tried on a baby quilt a couple of weeks before, and you guys, I am NEVER going back to old-school binding. I’m not joking—the no-tails method is much easier, much more conducive to scrappy bindings because you don’t need to make a super-long continuous binding strip, and gives PERFECT corners. Recently, while flipping through Sunday Morning Quilts, I saw that this method is actually in the book and I think I must have dismissed it on my first read because it seemed too complicated (it so isn’t). I also decided to go a bit thinner on my binding for this quilt, cutting it 2.25″ wide instead of 2.5″, and the quality and fullness of the binding is spectacular by comparison. I may even go down to 2″ for my next quilt.

Can I help you bind, mom? I'm sure licking your hand for an hour will help get this done in no time.

Can I help you bind, mom? I’m sure licking your hand for an hour will help get this done in no time.

I used the blue/white octopus fabric as my main binding fabric, and each side of the quilt got a small scrap of one of the other colours to punch it up a bit.

Pop of colour in the binding

Although I finished the quilt top about a year ago, I didn’t get back to it until the end of the summer, when I decided to try to enter it into the Erding Patchwork Messe, where I exhibited a couple of quilts last March, too. I worked like a fiend for only to find out that they wouldn’t accept a late submission, so it’ll have to wait for the next one.

* If you aren’t following Sarah, do yourself a favour and do. Her HST quilts are a thing of beauty.

My New Custom Sewing Table

So posting in these parts has been sporadic at best, but don’t you think I’ve been sitting on my laurels. Stuff has been getting done here, you hear?!

Have I ever mentioned that I have a carpenter? I do. He’s done a lot of work on a house we have up north and has become a good friend, so it only seemed fitting that I’d impose with a request for a sewing table, no? Yes.

At the tail end of last year I sketched an embarrassingly unskilled sketch of what I had in mind, and sent Mario a shitty picture of this shitty sketch on whatsApp, and then the Germ tried to explain to him auf Deutsch what the bizarre assortment of lines was supposed to represent.

If you thought I was joking, you grossly overestimate me.

If you thought I was joking, you grossly overestimate me.

In February when we were up north for a visit I took my machine in for measurements and a slightly more refined plan was hatched. In April, Mario arrived with his tools and a massive work surface, and he and the Germ got to work assembling it. I watched from the cat tree, in awe.

Faces hidden to protect t he innocent.

Faces hidden to protect the innocent.

The cats, having been displaced, hopped onto the pieces for a nap.

What?

What are you lookin’ at?

And soon enough, I had this:

Magic, is it not?!

Magic, is it not?!

The table is about three meters long and a meter wide, with a drop-down slot for the machine. The back has another half-meter extension, making for a huge table on which I can fairly easily lay out a large quilt for quilting.

Magic!

Magic!

The whole thing is on wheels (except the extension legs, which fold up when not in use, so I can move the table to the middle of the room if I want to, like I did when a couple of friends came over to sew with me a while back.

When I don’t have a huge quilt on it, there is enough space for my large cutting mat and for a squillion other things that can rest to the right of the machine without interfering with any sewing. I usually have my ironing board to my right at table height so I don’t have to keep getting up to “press” (let’s all pretend that I don’t iron).

So sounds great, right? It is, but… There are a couple of issued with it that need to be tweaked that I hadn’t anticipated.

The first is that my sewing machine has a slightly curved surface, which means that it isn’t flush with the table. This means that when I’m piecing, the pieces sometimes get scrunched up in the gap between the surfaces. This could probably be fixed with a customized Perspex surface, or I could try placing the surface of my old Janome extension table on top of the table in that spot for a slightly raised, but smooth surface. I’ll need to find a way to affix it to the table to prevent it from sliding. At the moment this isn’t bothering me enough to worry about it.

The second is that it turns out that the extension is a bit too heavy for the back wheels to support, so they bent, making it difficult to wheel the table around. I’ve removed them and my carpenter will reassess what we can do about it.

What does your sewing surface look like? Would you invest in a custom piece?

My Submission For Blogger’s Quilt Festival

I know there hasn’t been an awful lot happening here on the blog in terms of quilting. This is not to say there isn’t much quilting going on – au contraire, my friends – just that there hasn’t been much photographing going on, which I intend to address in short order.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of a rehash from earlier in the year for my submission to Blogger’s Quilt Festival, under the large quilt category.

I’m still madly in love with this quilt that I made for my brother earlier in the year, in homage to a baby quilt I made a few years ago.

Totem's gradient quilt

Totem’s gradient quilt

Totem 2

Totem’s gradient quilt

I’m also in love with the oversized grid I made for the back and am doing something similar (though slightly more logically sized) with a rainbow quilt I’m working on right now. More on that soon.

Giant squares for the quilt back

Giant squares for the quilt back

Things I am not in love with are my camera and my photography skills. Things I am bored with: talking about it.

I don’t recall the exact measurements of this quilt, but it was somewhere between huge and massive.

I Made A Wee Purchase

Last month I hit the road towards Alsace, France, to attend the European Patchwork Meeting. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but it didn’t really matter all that much because I was going there to buy stuff: I was going to pick up a roll of batting I’d ordered from a vendor in the Netherlands, from whom I bought a roll at Nadelwelt in Karlsruhe in mid-2014, and I was going TO BUY A HANDIQUILTER longarm machine. You know, NO BIGGIE.

(More on the show in a separate post. It was mind blowing.)

I fell in love with the Avante when I took a class in Karlsruhe, but nearly fell off my chair when I heard how much it costs. Obviously I wasn’t going to spend nine thousand euro on a sewing machine. That’s CRAZY talk. But I think deep down I knew that I would. Not right away, certainly, but one day. So I started saving my pennies. When I visited Toronto in the fall of 2014 I went to a quilt show with my mom and played with the machine a bit more (I kept circling around and having a go, then running away when the salespeople approached). After I returned home, my parents, who at the best of times don’t have two pennies to rub together, offered me use of their credit line to buy it, which was incredibly generous, but I couldn’t take on that much debt, and certainly not when it’s secured against my parents’ house. (I come from good people, y’all.)

By the beginning of 2015 I’d managed to save about three thousand euro, and then my 40th birthday came around in February with a massive surprise of parents and friends turning up from Canada, the US, and England. My parents hit up the entire family for my longarm fund and suddenly nine thousand euro didn’t seem so nuts—I was more than halfway there! So I embarked on a major austerity program. I started packing my lunch, jacked up my monthly savings to the point where I was just barely managing to put gas in my car, saved all my fivers (do you save your coins? Don’t. Save your fivers. You’re welcome).

The math added up. I would have the cash on hand by the time the European Patchwork Meeting in September rolled around. Except then I found out that the price had gone up by another fifteen hundred euro (except it didn’t. It actually went up by twenty three hundred, as it would transpire when it came time to buy it). I hemmed, I hawed. I considered waiting until the new year because I’d have a few more months to save and my thirteenth salary would come in, but then the Germ said—just buy it. I’ll lend you the money.

So I did! I did a class at the show and then went over to the Handiquilter booth and told the man: Sell me a Handiquilter, Nate! (Nate, happens to be Handiquilter’s Director of Global Business Development. You know, NO BIGGIE.)

So he did! I bought one of the machines that was used in the class (brand new except for the classes at the show) for ten thousand euro, and with it comes massive box of thread and two-days’ private tuition by a Handiquilter educator in my house.

It was delivered at the beginning of October and my trainer, Patricia, will be here in mid-November to teach me everything I need to know. I’ve played with it a bit so far and I’m here to tell you that I am absolutely TERRIBLE at it, but not at all deterred.

Also, did I mention I am poor? A poor but delighted bunny.