Tuesday, August 7, 2012

North Star, free motion quilting experiments, and a long overdue review of Connecting Threads cotton quilting thread

As July turned to August I started to take stock of what I have stitched up this summer, and what I still wanted to get done.  It may not all get done, that is fine, but still it felt good to enumerate the projects that are in progress and the ones that I'm itching to finish.

One of those was "North Star," my quilt top from the Made in Cherry QAL last January.

star points for the Made in Cherry QAL

BIG STAR for Made in Cherry QAL

North Star quilt top (Made in Cherry QAL)

I pieced this very quickly over the course of two evenings, and didn't do a brilliant job of it despite the fact that it really is a incredibly straightforward project.  Little inconsistencies in the piecing would haunt me when it came to quilting, and I ended up with a few puckers in the front of the quilt (something that usually bothers me, and that I avoid at all costs) but I was undaunted this week.  What I wanted most of all was to get this quilt top out of the closet and into full, usable quilt form.

I didn't have a destination in mind for this project, so I used this as an opportunity

(1) to keep using up things from the stash and
(2) to experiment.

The batting: at present, I have three queen sized wool battings on hand -- and I am pretty stubborn about using wool only for really special projects.  This to my mind was not one of them.  In the realm of cotton batting all I had were scraps...a mountain of scraps of Hobbs Heirloom cotton.  So I set to piecing a Frankenbatting of scraps.

I'm happy to report that using the techniques shown by Jeanne Harwood in this video I was able to use my remaining Heat Press batting tape much more successfully!  I'm really pleased with this product, although I didn't have quite enough for the whole batting-piecing-task (I think I used about 10 scraps of various sizes) and had to zig-zag stitch the remaining seams when I ran out.  But this tape is something I am definitely going to restock.

As for the quilting: I have a long story to tell below, so feel free to skip over it...but it may be helpful to someone out there, so I will get to it.  First here are some shots of North Star, quilted and bound.  I was inspired to experiment a bit by Free Motion Quilting with Angela Walters.  I love this book!!

I started with an orange peel design in the star (using the dimensions of each square as guide lines), and then divided the four solid blue triangles into sections with some straight line quilting.  I filled them with  "back-and-forth," "double loop swirls" and an odd feathery-fan thing of my own divising.  The corner blue squares feature more double loop swirls.

North Star, quilted

North Star, in use!

North Star, quilted at last

North Star, out of the dryer and right into use
Frida and I both love the yardage of Holiday Happy Gnoma on the back of this quilt!  
So here's my FMQ saga:

When I started this quilting adventure 2 1/2 years ago, free motion quilting was of the things that drew me in right away.

I moved from my little Kenmore machine to a Janome Horizon two years ago (I had the Horizon on layaway from the time it was released here in Canada until September 2010) -- and I had some FMQing successes right away with that machine.

But then I had a run of trouble with it last winter, when the bobbin case started to rebel, popping out of place, jamming, causing endless thread breakage.  It was terribly frustrating, and I ended up bringing it in for a repair (still under warrantee) and a full cleaning.  It was like a new machine when I got it back, but I didn't do much FMQing with it until this summer.

And then it started acting up again, the top thread breaking repeatedly and just not making the prettiest of stitches.  One day while I was working on the border of Bear Pa it jammed. I couldn't sew at all.

I was really panicked and depressed, wondering if maybe I had made a big mistake buying this machine.  Luckily for me, when I called my shop I found that the woman on duty that day was herself a tech and seamstress.  Bleary-eyed and anxious, I drove across town feeling pretty certain that my machine was going to have to go in for another repair.

Long story made short(er): the problem was solved by replacing my needle.  My needle!  I was stunned.  I had been using a Schmetz topstitch needle, I believe it was a 14 (maybe a 16) because I had read somewhere that the larger eye of those topstitch needles would help avoid thread breakage.  But it was actually messing up my machine.

Now that Ms. Horizon and I understand each other better, I am getting some really great results.

quilting detail, North Star
I used blue thread in the needle and white thread in the bobbin here -- and was really happy with my tension balance...finally...no blue showing through on the back!  Hooray!

So one thing I have learned about the Janome Horizon is that it works beautifully if treated just so -- it is a bit finicky. Now that I am closer to understanding its particularities, it is quilting like a dream. Here's what she wants from me to be on her best behaviour:

*fresh needles, and the right ones.  I am now using Janome "red tip" needles for quilting with a thick-ish cotton thread like Connecting Threads brand. This is what my tech recommended, and it is the only needle I am going to use from now on.  (For quilting with fine threads like Bottom Line  -- when used as the top thread that is -- she recommended Janome "blue tip." I now have those in my toolbox too.)  In retrospect, I think I should have replaced the needle halfway through quilting North Star, since my quilting stitches towards the end were not as "clean" as those as the beginning (the bobbin thread, which was white, was starting to show through a bit on the top and I got a few loops of blue on the bottom.  I played with the needle and bobbin tensions, but it didn't help.  It dawned on me -- too late -- that I probably needed a fresh needle).  Needles are everything!

*perfectly wound bobbins.  This had been an ongoing problem for me, since following the exact steps shown in the Janome book and video was not producing perfectly tight even bobbins for me.  Jackie showed me a way to feed the thread (actually skipping a step) that works perfectly!  My bobbins are now great. If anyone is interested, I could post about this.

*a clean bobbin area -- no surprise there.  Every machine wants that, and Connecting Threads cotton does produce a fair bit of lint, so repeated cleaning of the area under the bobbin case is essential.

And finally there are a couple of things I already had in my repertoire, like the Supreme Slider to make to easier to move the quilt, and these cotton quilting gloves for getting a grip.

I'm happy to report that free motion quilting is fun again -- and I'm hoping I can improve my skills as I work my way through some more projects.

But for now there are a couple of little girl dresses calling my name, and of course a big hand quilting project is in front of me.  So it looks like my sewing time will be characterized by multitasking for the foreseeable future.

Finally, I would like to offer a little review of Connecting Threads cotton quilting thread, which I have been using since I started quilting -- and which I feel like I rediscovered this week.  I am so happy with how this thread behaved for me in this project.

*it is strong!  I had no breakage at all, no matter what direction I went.
*it is cheap!  I have a whole shoe box full, bought over the last couple of years -- and the low price means it's easy to justify a rainbow collection. Fun!
*it is thick! This may or may not be a plus for you, but if you like nice defined quilting stitches, this is a good thread to use.  It is said to be 50 wt, but it is much different from an Aurifil 50 wt, which I use for piecing since it is so sleek and fine.

*it is linty. You need to clean the machine frequently.
*it is a bit inconsistent in quality. Over the past two years I have experienced two Bad Spools (they kept breaking and causing all sorts of headaches). I threw both of them in the trash.  But since the thread is really well-priced, I feel okay about my odds.

Happy stitching!


Archie The Wonder Dog said...

Your FMQ is amazing!!!!

Prof. S (the enchanted bobbin) said...

Oh thank you! I'd say it looks better from a distance (you'll see I avoided close-ups), but I'm going to keep working on it.

Ariane said...

Your quilting turned out beautifully!! I love it!! Thanks for all the info in this post. I do hope to buy a new machine with a larger throat someday. Hopefully sooner than later. Your review of the Janome Horizon is great!!

LizA. said...

I admire you tenacity to get this done despite all the disagreements from your machine. Good job! I think Miss Frida loves it too. Thanks for sharing your experience. I've got some of that batting tape hanging around somewhere, probably in a box by now. I will have to watch the video again when I rediscover the tap after we move.

Catherine said...

I love your made in cherry quilt and the fmq is amazing

Sarah said...

I Love your quilt and your quilting, it looks very intricate and detailed!
Please share your magic bobbin winding technique! My horizon is a dream to sew on as long as I pet it and tell it how pretty it is frequently and do not under any circumstances try and make it sew with metallic thread-the mother of all hissy fits happened due to some (Very pretty!) metallic thread!