Thursday, 17 January 2013

And Here my Free Motion Troubles Began

After spending the past month working on a wholecloth inspired lap quilt, I'm very happy to finally have something to show! It has certainly been slow going, but with the help of some excellent audiobooks I stuck with it despite the difficulties. I hope that by the end of this project I will have learned enough to "level up" and easily defeat these little devils in the future... but I think that's a tad optimistic. Learning tends to come in baby steps rather than giant leaps.

This quilt top is made entirely out of Just Color fabric in red. Just Color by Studio E is my go-to collection for fabrics that are visually interesting but still work like solids. All of the quilting is black, except for a hammer and sickle design accent in white thread. I am making this by request, for someone who spent a (very) long train ride to our place reading Lenin and wishing they'd brought a blanket.

I decided that I wanted to use a boxy motif to quilt this, which leads to the first little hiccup. When learning a new design, it takes a while to get comfortable with it, and the first little bit usually looks pretty terrible. Since I use the quadrant quilting method, the first area of the quilt that I work on is always the centre. It's also the most difficult area, because that's when the most fabric and pins are squished into the tiny little throat of the machine.

Predictably enough, the ugliest stitches ended up right in the middle. Here is a comparison so you can see what I mean. (Apologies for the dark photos, there is not much natural light in Edmonton in January!)

Luckily, I know from experience that the best way to make bad quilting look good is to have a large amount of it. That issue has taken care of itself. I continued to quilt, and just as I was at the three quarter mark, I turned it around to find this. Aack!

It might not be easy to see on the busy background fabric, but that's a big ol' fabric fold that somehow found its way into my stitching. Unacceptable. This one took patience to fix. I sat down with my seam ripper and a James S.A. Corey audiobook to rip out the whole area.

I'm pretty sure this happened because I didn't precisely follow my quadrant quilting plan for that area. Everything had been smooth enough to make me a tad overconfident until this point. To work the wrinkle out, I pinned the area thoroughly and left the quilt to hang for a couple of days. When I re-quilted that spot, I was more careful to keep the fabric under tension with my hands and that fixed the problem.

Of course, while I was checking  things out back there, I couldn't help but notice this:

Yes, that's the reverse side of the backing fabric sewn into the quilt where it doesn't belong. This has happened to me before, and it's easy to fix without pulling out any stitches. The secret is to cut the backing fabric very close to the stitch line, and then pull it out a little piece at a time. The fabric will break down into its original threads, which pass through the stitches easily enough. This time, though, I probably will rip out the stitching since it's just a small area.

All of these little issues didn't bother me compared to the one huge problem I had with this quilt: thread breaks. I'm pretty sure that I spent more time burying broken threads and rethreading my sewing machine than I actually spent quilting this project. Sometimes the thread broke just a few inches from my starting point!

I can think of two possible culprits for this. Either the weight of a quilt this size puts too much strain on my less-than-top-of-the-line machine, or the thread was too brittle. I was using a brand new roll of Aurifil 50WT black cotton thread. This is the first time I try their black thread, but I've been using their off-white for a while now without any problems. In fact, I didn't have a single thread break in the area of this quilt that I quilted in off-white. Perhaps the black is more brittle, or it had been sitting on the shelf at the quilt shop for too long?

I definitely need to resolve this issue before I take on my gigantic Groove Quilt. The best way to troubleshoot this is probably to quilt another blanket of the same size with different thread, as well as some smaller blocks using this black thread. Luckily that's just what I've got in mind for my next project. In the meantime, there are just a few details left to finish up before I'm ready to bind this quilt and show it off. Looking forward to it!


  1. Poor you, MC! It is so annoying when these things happen and they do tend to come all at once, don't they? A couple of other things to check is the needle -- I find I start having problems if the needle is dull. I also start having problems if there's any lint build up below the plate. There could also be 'burrs' that are cutting the thread, although if you aren't having any problems with the off-white then that's probably not it. Good luck!

  2. I've got no answers as to why you are having trouble. Just sympathy. I hope it all gets better soon.

  3. I have issues like these. They seem to go in waves. I'm never sure if it's me, the machine, the thread or just bad Chi! It's going to be a great quilt. Good luck!

  4. Been there MC and it sure is a bear to put up with. Good for you for sticking with it. I always have a book on tape running while I quilt. It helps carry me through repetitious jobs and frustrating ones.

  5. 'fabric and pins are squished into the tiny little throat of the machine' Glad I'm not the only who ends up with 'staples' instead of pins. I sometimes have to perform surgery and remove the needle plate cover to remove the little bast-er... pins.

    'Apologies for the dark photos, there is not much natural light in Edmonton in January!' Same here. :-/

    Bubbles and fabric folds! My quilting isn't elaborate, but I'm just a novice and I get the odd pucker that drives me absolutely insane! Bless you for your patience (And I am so thankful for the invention of the audiobook, which gets me through my work day.)

    Would the black thread for some reason be thicker than the off-white you were using/or the fibers be uneven? Even minute changes in thread can sometimes throw the tension off in machines (at least in our finicky embroidery machines at work. My little Kenmore basic home machine never seems to have complaints, though, so I'd believe your little machine is probably fine and it's the thread). Sorry, not very helpful here.

    Good luck!

  6. Hi, MC- I always know it's time to stop sewing for the night when I make 2 mistakes in a row! One comment I'd have that might help in the future is that I always make a practice all-over block of any new quilting design, usually a 10" x 10" one. This helps me get in the swing of it. It can also help with muscle memory to draw the design out on paper ahead of time. As far as folds on the back, I've gone to spray basting, and then hand-basting the whole quilt ahead of time, as it helps reduce movement... but I don't know that any method is perfect. Best wishes... sometimes just a little time off from the project is what you need. :)

  7. "the best way to make bad quilting look good is to have a large amount of it"

    This made me laugh. But I actually know what you mean. For the record: I don't think your quilting looks bad!