Since I last posted about this project, I finished assembling and attaching my border strips (and re-learned the importance of fitting the quilt edge to the border strip rather than vice-versa). Because I happened to end up with a blue stripe on the main border fabric falling right next to the corner block, I switched to a yellow fabric scrap for the corner blocks instead.
I didn't want to use a polyester batting because I hate the way polyester fibers migrate through the quilt top and "beard" over time, which would be especially visible on these bright colors, but I didn't want to be committed to quilting too densely, either, since I wanted the quilt/blanky to retain the drapability and squishiness of the Minky backing as much as possible. My quilting plan is to set forth boldly with no plan, and quilt just enough to add interest and texture without making the quilt too stiff. Remember the quilting is not going to go through the Minky backing at all. So I bought a thin 100% cotton batting with scrim that the manufacturer said could be quilted up to 8-10" apart for this project. I don't remember who the manufacturer was, but I bought this batting by the yard from Mary Jo's Cloth Store in Gastonia, North Carolina. Since this is a fairly small quilt project, and because my mantra right now is Simplify!, I decided to try basting the quilt top to the batting with temporary spray adhesive. I used 505 and sprayed the batting, as per the instructions on the can, and then layed the quilt top onto the sticky batting and struggled to get it smooth and square. It's a good thing the kids were at school, because I found it necessary to use some very bad language throughout this process. Never again! This spray basting method was a royal pain in the butt, and my previously perfectly square quilt top was not so perfectly straight and square anymore when I decided enough was enough. I should have basted with my curved safety pins like I usually do; it would have taken the same amount of time, with no chance of distorting my quilt top in the process.
Once I had the batting stuck to the quilt top, I stitched in the ditch with my walking foot in all the border seams to help secure the layers of the quilt a little bit better before moving on to the embroidery stage. Here's the completed pieced top, stuck to the batting, and quilted only in the ditches:
Remember that the wide outer border is going to be mostly covered up by my 2" wide satin binding. I laid the satin binding down over the corner to get an idea of how the border will look when the project is completed:
The satin binding looks a lot darker in the photo than in real life; it's a beautifully vibrant purple, leaf green, and royal blue that complements the fabrics.
So then I spent several hours the next day planning the embroidery. Originally I thought of a three-letter monogram, but then I couldn't find a monogram style that I liked well enough. Everything was either too grown-up, too commonplace, or else had too much going on that would detract from the spirit of the Eric Carle illustrations. Finally, I remembered the Buttons monogram style from Embroidery Arts. Eureka! I have used Embroidery Arts' monogram designs over and over again and have always been pleased with the design quality, but this Buttons style never appealed to me in the pale pastels it's shown in on their web site. But, by changing the thread colors to match the "marbles" in my Hungry Caterpillar fabric, this monogram looks like it was a custom design to go with my fabric. I combined the 2" initial "P" Buttons monogram with the baby's first and middle names in my Bernina Artista embroidery software, which automatically converts any True Type font on my computer into embroidery stitches. The font I chose is called Mufferaw. Here's the template of my customized design that I printed out from my embroidery software, along with the Isacord thread colors that I selected. I like to cut out my design templates so I can preview it in different locations on my project. Isn't it perfect how the "P" fits so nicely into the space under the caterpillar?
I wasn't really worried about how the narrow satin-stitched lettering would stitch out on my quilt, but the "P" is a pretty dense design so I decided to stitch out a sample. Sometimes thread colors look different stitched out in a design than they do on the spool, so a sample stitchout would also give me an opportunity to make any necessary thread color adjustments before stitching on the actual project.
For my sample, I sprayed a scrap of the same batting used in my project and stuck a piece of cotton quilting fabric on top. I hooped the two layers in my large oval hoop along with a single layer of tearaway embroidery stabilizer, and then I basted along the outer edge of the hoop using the basting design file I downloaded from the Bernina web site. As you can see, I got a big bulging pucker at the top of the "P" and a good bit of fabric distortion. Notice how goofy the fabric grain looks around the center of the design. I decided that the hoop basting wasn't doing much good with this design because the basting stitches were too far away from the outer edge of the design at the top and bottom, where the distortion was occurring. I decided to proceed with embroidering my project, but I applied two layers of light fabric starch to the quilt top first and added a topping of Sulky Solvy in addition to the tearaway stabilizer for additional support and to ensure that my skinny little letters didn't sink into the fabric too much.
Now, what I struggle with most in machine embroidery, other than puckering, is getting my project in the hoop straight and taught, with the hoop perfectly centered on the spot where I want the embroidery design to stitch out. I taped my little template cutout to my gridded hoop template to help with that, but I still struggled a bit before I was satisfied with my hooping.
Here's how the design stitched out on my project. I'm really happy with the design, the thread colors, and the placement, and I'm mostly happy with the way the embroidery stitched out...
...But I do still have some puckering around the letter "P." It's better than the sample, though, and I think I might be able to smooth it away with a combination of ironing and quilting. Next time I want to embroider on a quilt top, I'm going to try a couple of new things: I could pin-baste the layers like I usually do, and then quilt a 2-4" grid over the area that will go in the embroidery hoop, using wash-away basting thread in the top and bobbin, to better secure the layers and hopefully prevent this distortion, and then the basting grid will just wash away when I wash the completed quilt. If that doesn't work, I'll go back to embroidering the quilt top before the batting is added, using one or more layers of fusible Poly-Mesh and tearaway stabilizers on the bottom and the Sulky Solvy on the top. One of these days, I'll come up with the magical method for pucker-free embroidered quilts! In the meantime, one good thing about baby quilts is that you know they are going to get ratty and ragged the more they are loved, and the baby isn't going to be looking the quilt over with a magnifying glass and passing judgement on the quilter for every little flaw. I try to keep that in mind to keep my perfectionist tendencies at bay. The quilt label stitched out without a hitch, as I knew it would. It's the same True Type font that I used in the monogram, just a smaller size, and I tried to put it an inconspicuous location on the front of the quilt, next to the outer border on the upper right side.
I'm making progress! The next step is to add texture and better secure the batting to the quilt top with some free-motion machine quilting. I've had the BSR (Bernina Stitch Regulator) update for my Artista 200 machine for several years, but never had the time to play with it and get comfortable enough to use it on a project before. I always want things to be PERFECT, and if I'm hand-quilting it may take a few years to finish a project but at least I am in complete control of every stitch that goes into the quilt and it comes out exactly the way I envisioned. But I've been inspired recently by Wendy Sheperds's Ivory Spring blog and her BSR quilting projects featured in Bernina's Through the Needle publication, so I'm determined to get over my fears and take the plunge. I know that the best tools in the world can't give me the instant ability to achieve exquisite, heirloom quality machine quilting like Wendy's, but having the best tools does give me a head start on the learning curve, and the only way to get better is to get started and just do it! Wish me luck...