Ice Berg, Dead Ahead! Approaching the Perils of the Quilting Phase, and the Band Plays On

The Titannic, image found here
Well, Lars's Drunken Dragons quilt top is nearly complete.  (If you missed the earlier posts about this project, click here to catch up).  I just have to assemble the last of the 15 rows of blocks, then attach that row to the others.  I decided to assemble the quilt top in thirds (five rows per section) to minimize fraying along the raw edges, so I'll have to join the three sections together, and then the piecing stage of the 70" x 105" twin bed quilt will be complete.  After that, I'll join my two widths of the backing fabric together and make and attach the quilt label to the backing so it will be quilted in securely. 

Scrabble fabric from Quilting Treasures, photo from Fabric.com

I am excited about the quilt label; I'm going to spell out "MOMMY LOVES LARS" in Scrabble fabric, cutting out each letter with a seam allowance so I can stitch them together like a Scrabble board. 

The scary part comes next. Depending on the quilting design, I may have to do some marking on the quilt top -- always a terrifying prospect, because what if the marks don't wash out afterwards like they're supposed to?  "They" tell you to test the washaway marking pen on every fabric in your quilt to be sure it will wash out afterwards, but I used so many fabrics...  Also, I would have needed to make up my little marking pen tests on fabric scraps a couple of weeks ago to do this, because it's going to take me at least that long to do the quilting.  Just because the ink comes out after it's been on the fabric for a day doesn't mean that it would come out after three weeks.  Anyway, I'm not marking anything until I know for sure how I want to do the quilting.

So far, this quilt has been pretty smooth sailing, like the Titannic, speeding across the Atlantic Ocean with its sparkling chandeliers and happy passengers, but we're about to enter dangerous waters...  Nothing like a positive attitude, don't you agree?  Here's what's going through my mind as I stare out into the frigid, frosty darkness of the quilting voyage that lies ahead:

Machine Trapunto by Anita Shakelford
My first thought is to stitch a grid of diagonal lines as background quilting everywhere except inside the circles.  The circles would have concentric, fairly wide spaced circle quilting for emphasis.  To make the circles stand out even more, I could add trapunto to the circles (an extra layer of batting just under the circles for added dimension) using the method that Diane Gaudynski describes in her books.  I'd use my walking foot for the background grid, but the circles?  Well...  I can't very well turn my quilt around 360 degrees under my sewing machine needle to quilt each circle with the walking foot, not on this oversized twin bed quilt.  The line of quilting that goes right in the circular seamline would be challenging to execute even with a walking foot -- do I really think I can do that accurately with the feed dogs down and the training wheels off?  Am I really going to be able to quilt perfect circles with FMQ?  I've jokingly dubbed this the Drunken Dragons quilt because the block pattern is called Drunkard's Path, but I don't want people to look at the finished quilt, covered with wobbly, crookedy lumpy-non-circular blobs and think I was drunk when I was quilting it!

I've been telling everyone how I'm going to do free-motion quilting (FMQ) on this project in hopes that I won't chicken out, but I feel a cold sweat coming on. For those who don't know, normally the feed dogs on the sewing machine pull your fabric through at a steady pace beneath the stationary needle going up and down to create stitches of exactly the same length.  When you do free-motion quilting, you disengage those feed dogs so you can control the fabric movement with your hands, enabling you to go back and forth, diagonally, sideways, all without turning your fabric.  It's like trying to draw a picture or sign your name by moving a piece of paper around underneath a stationary marker, except that you also have to be careful to move the quilt at a steady speed so you don't end up with a mess of some really long stitches, some really short stitches, and a bunch of knots.  With a lot of practice, people like Diane Gaudynski and Wendy Sheppard are able to quilt the most exquisite designs using this method, but my experience with FMQ so far looks like I tried to doodle with my left hand, blindfolded. 

Bernina Stitch Regulator, from Bernina USA
I have a gizmo for my fancy computerized sewing machine that is supposed to help -- the BSR function (Bernina Stitch Regulator) has a little Doctor Evil laser thingy that scans and counts threads next to the needle as I'm moving the fabric, speeding up or slowing down the needle movement as needed to keep stitches around the same length.  But BSR doesn't improve my ability to "draw" by moving fabric, it only helps to keep stitch length more or less consistent.  If I'm really going to drop those feed dogs and quilt without training wheels, then I'd better set the quilt top aside and do at least a week of practice quilting before I even mark the quilt top. I'd hate to mark an overly ambitious design on my quilt top and then realize I'm not skilled enough to execute it well. I'm looking at this quilt top, and not really coming up with a lot of FMQ ideas that would look good on this quilt and that I'm likely to be able to do well.  I mean honestly, circles?  I really WANT circles, though.  I may have to plan a smaller project, like a table runner, for FMQ practice.
Anders' Froggy Quilt of Many Colors, Decorative Quilting Motif Stitched with Embroidery Module, 2006

So there's this cunning little voice in the back of my head, and I can't tell for sure if she's an angel or the Devil. She says there's no shame in using all the high-tech gadgetry at my disposal in order to finish the quilt and get it on Lars's bed, looking the way I want it to look, and finished within this lifetime. I have several design collections of Keryn Emmerson's outline quilting designs that I could use with the embroidery module of my sewing machine to insure good looking results using fancier designs than I could manage free hand.  When I've used this method in the past, most notably for Anders' Froggy Quilt of Many Colors above (I know, I should have done more quilting on the Flying Geese patches and I still might add more later), I got annoying little thread knots on the back of the quilt (which, thanks to Diane's book, I now know could have been minimized by using a lighter weight quilting thread).  I just found a Bernina Through the Needle: Quilting in the Hoop article that suggests using these outline embroidery designs on just the quilt top and batting for the decorative stitching, then adding the backing fabric before doing the background quilting through all three layers, so that any tension snafus or knots gets hidden between the layers of the quilt.  I guess I'd need to use an adhesive basting spray to adhere the quilt top to the batting if I'm going to do some of the quilting before I layer and pin-baste all three layers together, though -- ugh, this is getting complicated again!  I wonder if this is like that moment when Captain Edward Smith ordered his crew to increase the Titanic's speed just as they were approaching the ice they'd been warned about?  I mean, is this going to make my project go more smoothly, or will this plan of action come back to haunt me in my dreams? 

Here are a couple of the quilting designs I'm considering for the circles on this quilt:

Keryn Emmerson's Continuous Quilting Designs collection for Bernina

 I like that Celtic knot circle design shown on the cover of the design collection packaging, but it's too small so I'd want to enlarge it and then add some additional wide-spaced circle outlines.  This particular collection is on one of those design cards that plugs directly into my sewing machine rather than on a CD, and although I can resize the design directly on my sewing machine, I'm pretty sure I need to use my PC software to add additional outline circles.  I may be able to do this if I open the design on my sewing machine, save it to the sewing machine's memory, and then copy it from there to a thumb drive that I take downstairs to my PC. 

Another Keryn Emmerson design from her Quilting Inspirations 788 Collection for OESD

The design shown above is another possibility, and even though it's also too small to fill the big circles on my quilt, perhaps I could stitch them out as-is and then add some FMQ echo quilting.  Since this design is so angular and irregular, the echo quilting wouldn't need to be perfect in order to look good.  But I really, really want circles...

I did some browsing over at Embroidery.com (even though I hate to buy more embroidery designs when I have SO MANY that I already own and have never used), and found another possibility:
Rangoli design from Embroidery.com, get it here
I like the circles in the Rangoli design at left from Embroidery.com, and even though at 3.5" it's again, a little on the small side, I could easily resize it larger to fit, and the stitching looks like it would be open enough to allow the quilt to puff up between the stitches.

Alternatively, I should also be able to digitize my original concentric circle idea myself fairly easily with my Bernina Embroidery Software, but I upgraded from Version 4 to Version 6 last year and have not been able to take classes from my dealer yet to learn how to use the new version.  It's completely different than the older version, because Version 6 has a baby version of CorelDRAW for digitizing from scratch and when I fooled around with it last night I wasn't able to figure out how to use the circle tool.  However, I was able to find the handouts for the Version 6 Software Mastery classes online, which I printed out, and I also managed to send the colossal on-screen software owner's manual PDF to my iPad so I can read it in my Kindle app -- but it doesn't navigate as easily as a Kindle book would, and I'm not able to use the hilighting or annotating functions.  This is so irritating -- I want a real, physical owner's manual that I can highlight, write notes in, and cover with Post-It flags to help me find the right information quickly when I need it again!  I know some users have paid to have a local printer print the whole thing out in multiple spiral bound volumes...  Ugh.  Bernina, are you listening?  I want an owner's manual next time!!!  So anyway, there is going to be a little software learning curve, and I have a few hundred pages of boring technical reading ahead of me, but it's doable -- and I need to learn how to use that software anyway or else it will be a huge waste of money.

Monofilament Nylon Thread from SewArt International
Finally, just when you thought I was finished with this smorgasbord of anxiety-inducing possibilities, we come to the question of thread.  I wasn't thrilled with the look of the heavier-weight "machine quilting thread" I used on Anders' quilt.  I've considered using the lighter-weight cotton or silk threads recommended by Wendy Sheppard and Diane Gaudynski.  But I'm leaning toward a .004 nylon monofilament quilting thread from Sew Art International for this project.  I have a lot of busy fabrics in this quilt, and I don't think I want the quilting thread to stand out and scream at anyone.  Plus, invisible nylon should hide my oopses and glitches better than any other thread, and it will enable me to quilt in that Scrabble label without scribbling all over it with the quilting thread. I have this thread in both clear and a smoke color, and I haven't decided which color to use yet.  I've never used the monofilament nylon thread before (it's a maiden voyage -- just like the Titanic!), and I'm nervous about the thread snarling, snapping, or otherwise misbehaving, but I'm going to do my research as far as tension settings and practice before I tackle the Real Deal.

Ready to Go: Final Blocks Awaiting Assembly
I can worry about all of this some more while I stitch those remaining blocks together today, since they aren't going to sew themselves.  After all, it's not a real quilt until somebody gets an ulcer.  Isn't that what they always say?  Well, that's what they should say.  Meanwhile, the band plays on...

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