Saturday, December 27, 2014

Existential Flow? Huh??

Tom's last blog post ended with an invitation for you all to come back and check out "The Existential Flow of Quilting", written by me. He was pulling your leg, and mine. I'm no student of philosophy. I am, however, a quilter.

We have had the privilege of quilting a number of really spectacular quilts recently. I've asked two of the quiltmakers to allow me to post some photos.

Judy C. trusted us with a beautiful Civil War sampler quilt she'd begun in a class several years ago. As is common to we quilters, she produced many gorgeous blocks while attending, but got sidetracked when the class ended. She showed her unfinished quilt to Lauri, a mutual friend, a while back.

Now Lauri's a take-charge kind of gal and a great quilter. She got Judy back on track and helped her finish the top.

I love the Civil War reproduction prints, and there were so many pretty and fun blocks to quilt around. Judy had done all the "heavy lifting". This quilt mostly just called for stitching in the ditch, with some background stipple around borders and sashing.

Judy's quilt
Judy C's Civil War quilt

Karen W's beautiful batik nine-patch, pieced for an Emerald Valley Quilter's challenge, was also a quilt that pulled its own weight. She used her creativity and color sense to really bring those nine-patch units to life! Mostly, it just needed to be made into a quilt sandwich, but she left me opportunity to put some fun quilting into the individual nine-patches.
Karen's batik nine-patches, set within stars floating across a dark sky.
Nine-patch sketching with thread

And just when we'd gotten caught up with quilts needed before Christmas, our friend Molly had a baby girl. I didn't have much time, so thought a whole-cloth quilt might be the answer to saving time. Her mom was heading to California to meet Miss Bella yesterday, and I raced to get some fabric on the quilt frame. 

Silly me! Whole-cloth quilts may save time getting it to the quilting stage, but the nature of the thing is that it calls for lots and lots of quilting. So the quilt is quilted, but it has no binding attached. And I am too late to send Bella's quilt with her "Grumsy". I shall have to give the U.S. Postal Service some business next week when the quilt's complete.

Detail of Bella's whole-cloth quilt
Yes, it is also probably crazy to make a quilt for a tiny baby in such an intense color. Shouldn't the quilt take a back seat to the delicate little person who is wrapped in it? Ah well, it shall keep her warm, no matter the color.
Bella's quilt, awaiting the application of binding.
Sorry for all you blog readers who'd wanted to read about the existential nature of quilting, you did not get that promised blog post. Maybe Tom will come through with some philosophical stuff next time!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Where We Are At

Tom longarming while jazz plays in the background
Tom here. Now that Denise and I have been longarming for about ten months, the feeling of newness has diminished somewhat and we've settled a bit into our roles in the business. Denise enjoys the companionship of fellow quilters (as in those who "piece" quilts) and naturally gravitates toward quilt guilds, sewing clubs and any group that has anything remotely to do with quilting. In the business world, they call this networking, but Denise just loves being with people and quilting.

I hope I don't alienate women readers with what I'm about to write, but it feels weird being the lone male at quilt guild meetings brimming with estrogen. So I'm okay with Denise attending those events without me. I'm perfectly fine handling the books, paperwork, website and other boring organizational things.

Nice feathers and echoing by Denise
on this Paris themed floral panel
So what about the quilting? I'm pleased to say we actually have clients -- and many are return customers! We offer three levels of service: all-over quilting, semi-custom, and custom. Most clients prefer basic all-over patterns. This option costs less and, depending on the color of thread, places greater emphasis on the piecework. I don't mean to brag, but I'm getting really good at loops, loops & leaves, and loops & hearts. Denise actually told a client that my leaves were better than her's. Well, I don't know about that.

At this juncture, Denise, being the more skilled and talented of our team, handles the more artistic, detailed and varied custom work.

So that's where we're at currently. As with any young business, we would love more clients. But I think we're growing at the right pace. Next blog post: The Existential Flow of Quilting. I'll ask Denise to write it.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Steps in the Creative Process

Easy rose. Nice, but what's next?
Tom here. I've always been fascinated by other people's creative processes. Bob Welch's Pebble in the Water describes the author's long, sometimes discouraging, but ultimately rewarding process of writing his previous book, American Nightingale. While researching the life of a heroic WW II nurse, Welch journeyed as far as Boston, Massachusetts and the beaches of Normandy, France. I was gripped from beginning to end reading this book about the writing of another book.

One thing about the creative process is you can't cut corners. Such is the craft of longarm quilting. Granted, learning quilting designs isn't quite so arduous as writing an award-winning historical nonfiction -- but steering the longarm has it's challenges.

Step in the process: doodling on paper
I previously mentioned my fondness for roses and how I'm intrigued by floral patterns. Early on, I found a simple rose design (above), which was pretty easy to quilt. Since then, I've discovered another more advanced rose in Cheryl Malkowski's Doodle Quilting.

Malkowski begins by saying, "It's easy to make beautiful roses."
Next step: practicing on muslin
So I took her word for it and headed straight to the longarm. Well, I soon discovered it's not that easy. Don't worry, I didn't practice on an actual quilt. Denise and I hone our craft on blank muslin until we've mastered patterns. My efforts at the new rose pattern were so bad that I was wasting good muslin. I realized that I'd bypassed a step in the process. I needed to backtrack, grab a pen and practice drawing the rose on paper. As you may know, most quilt patterns are a continuous line, so the pen stays on the paper from start to finish. After over three dozen pen-doodled roses, I resumed longarming -- with more encouraging results.

Is it the destination that's satisfying? Or is it the journey? I prefer the journey because of the sense of adventure and the feeling of moving forward. Of course it's nice to reach the destination, but I soon get antsy. Where do we go next? Hmm, a more complex, detailed and realistic rose sounds interesting. Show me that pattern!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

About Time!

I've intended to get a new post up for days and days. Life's been busy and I haven't found the time. This will be a fast one. Next one, I hope to have figured out a "random number generator" and offer a giveaway, an antique linen handkerchief -- maybe it's actually a linen napkin, that I've quilted. Could be used as a small table or dresser mat, or hung on a wall.

In the meantime, I'll put up some images of a fun quilt we quilted for one of the coolest fabric shops around. I've mentioned this before, but it's quite amazing to see the dimension added to a quilt top once the batting and backing are applied with thread.

This quilt top was pieced by the talented people at Piece by Piece in Eugene.
Loaded onto the quilt frame.
In process.
Quilting complete.
Here is their wonderful quilt, having been bound and washed. You may see it hanging on the wall at Piece by Piece. Isn't it fun!?

This is a bit of a wall quilt I pieced and quilted. We will be vendors at the Coburg Quilt Show on July 26, so I am madly piecing small tops and we are both quilting them as examples of our work for the show. This is a great quilt show, well attended and with spectacular displays. It's in the picturesque little town of Coburg, just outside Eugene. 

I'd encourage you to open your calendar, block Coburg Quilt Show onto Saturday, July 26, and show up between 9 am and 4 pm. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

One last photo: this is a block of a very fun quilt I quilted for a customer several days ago. 
Don't you think that will liven up a room? (Thanks, Karen, for the opportunity to quilt it!)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Man Can QUILT!!!

I came home from work one night last week to find Tom had quilted an entire baby quilt on his own. Now, he's done quilts and parts of quilts in the past, but has been hesitant to load them on his own or come up with his own designs -- except on practice quilts.

His work has gotten better and better. For a man who, one year ago, needed a definition of what it meant to quilt something, he's come a long way. And I love to hear him say, "and in three months, I'll be way beyond this".

He finds new designs in books or magazines, on youtube, and even comes up with his own. Yep, I'd let him quilt my pieced tops without hesitation.

See for yourself! This is exclusively Tom's work, the first and third being practice pieces.

Our culture has changed a great deal in some ways, with adults teaching the next generation not to grasp stereotypes. Children no longer assume doctors to be males, or RNs to be women, and only mothers to stay at home as their offsprings' caregivers. Writers, artists, paramedics, CEOs come in both sexes.

I am no longer surprised to glance at a large delivery truck on the highway and see a woman at the wheel.

Yet the stereotype seems to be deeply ingrained in our images of quilters.

Tom gets no credit for quilting when both of us have worked on a client's top, though I always ask their permission if it's a project we are both likely to work on. I am the one thanked for the finished product, and when they pass on a referral to someone else, that third party has no clue that there are two quilters under the name of Quail's Nest Quiltworks.

We know of other men who quilt. One of them does all the quilting for his wife and daughter's fabric shop. I wonder if his clients assume his wife actually does the quilting after hours.

Can men quilt? I'll let you judge for yourself.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

One Stitch at a Time

Tom here. It's been nearly three months since we received our Gammill longarm quilter. Denise and I have made great progress and our skills have improved with each session. My only apprehension about this venture concerned whether my skill level would meet the expectations of potential clients. I figured (correctly) Denise would take to the machine in no time. After all, she's spent most of her life successfully embracing creative pursuits, whether it be quilting, knitting, painting, photography, writing, etc.

As for me, I took a home economics class in junior high (where I learned to use a sewing machine), and as a teen, tied fishing flies, which I sold on consignment at a local store. Oh, and I could spin a basketball on my finger. With this in mind, my heart thumped a bit as I began quilting for the first time.

Not that I'm competitive, but I've gauged my progress based on careful observation of my wife's stitching. Whenever she quilts a beautiful design, I experience pride in her skills, along with a self-imposed prodding to rise to her level. If any competition exists between us, I'm sure it only makes us better.

I gravitate toward leaf and floral designs, whether it be a trillium meander, oak leaves or my latest discovery: roses with leaves (mine pictured). My love for gardening is undoubtedly to blame.

Roses & leaves meander
In less than three months, Denise and I have made fine progress. Just think where we'll be in a year! I'm confident the results will be wonderful -- one stitch at a time.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Surprising Design

 A neighbor, Judy, trusted me to quilt a pretty top she'd made. I love the  warm creams and beiges and soft whites she used. The use of similar values is called "low-volume", with no single fabric drawing attention to itself over the others.

I hung her patchwork on the curtain rod we've installed in our quilt room to observe it for a while. Judy didn't direct me to quilt it in a particular manner, so after looking it over, I scribbled some design ideas onto scratch paper.

When I loaded the top onto the machine and began quilting last week, I questioned whether I'd matched the style of quilting to the style of the top. Too contemporary? Too "scribbly"? I kept going, hoping it would  meet Judy's expectations.

Is it just me, or do other longarmers find "magic" happens when you finish a quilt and unpin it from the frame? While the layers are pulled tight, you see it flat, in two dimensions. Suddenly, when the tension is off and the fabric is allowed to relax, the work is so much more beautiful. In three dimensions, it blooms with texture.
It comes alive!

Judy B's half-square triangle quilt

It more than met Judy's expectations! And when we threw it out across her bed, I discovered a secondary design which seems should have been obvious to me before I ever began to quilt. Can you see the 'circles' formed by the arcs around the bubbles?

I will look for opportunity to quilt this design again.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Enthusiasm and Encouragement

It's so encouraging to return a finished quilt to a client and see their eyes light up! We've heard such enthusiastic responses to the work we've done.

Yesterday an employee at a local quilt shop saw a small quilt I'm finishing up and told me how nice the quilting was. 

"You do that with a computer program, right?"

Wow. No. We work freehand. But that was really complimentary. If someone took time to look it over, they'd see that there are no exact lookalikes. No swirl or swoop or loop looks perfectly identical to another. 

In our first weeks of longarm quilting, I spent a good deal more time on the machine than did Tom. He continued to finish the carpentry on our quilting room and worked at another obligation which required a good deal of his efforts. But once he began to quilt, he didn't waste time. He jumped in and learned the ropes.

We've done several practice or client quilts as a team (only with specific permission from said clients did we both put our work into the same quilt. as styles are bound to vary between two people). And I've done a number of quilts by myself. Yesterday I finished piecing a small quilt that Tom will quilt on his own. He planned the semi-custom quilting, chose the thread color and made good progress on it before I dragged him off to Eugene Modern Quilt Guild last night.

(Speaking of quilt guild, I suspected he was going to "break the glass ceiling" at that guild, as I've never seen or heard of a male participating with this group; but we were told he wasn't the first. Another man used to attend before I became involved at EMQ.)

 Here is the quilt Tom started quilting yesterday. His design, his choice of thread. It's coming along nicely.

This may give a little idea of the difference those quilting stitches can make in the finished product. I finished this one a few days ago.The patchwork is nice, colorful, fun. But add some decorative stitches and you have another element of interest, not to mention the practicality of attaching the "sandwich" of quilt top, batting (warmth and loft) and back.

Do you have a quilt top needing finishing? We'd like to be your quilters.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Practice, Practice

Those were the words of my violin teacher lo those many years ago: "practice, practice". I didn't do much practicing, and it showed. How motivated is a ten year old who doesn't master the instrument in the first few weeks? After two torturous years, my parents allowed me to quit the violin, since my younger sister was ready to take it up.

But I've learned the benefits of practicing a skill.We are in training in our home, learning to master the skills of quilting for others. Yes, we are new at this, having received our longarm machine a mere seventeen days ago. But it's so motivating -- I think for us both -- to feel we've been gifted with an ability that certainly surprises me.

We have made several muslin "quilt sandwiches", a few smaller patchwork quilts I'd pieced in the past, and some of varying sizes for three local charitable organizations. We now have customers' quilts ready to go. One is huge! It's a beautiful king-sized quilt that I'm intimidated to begin on yet. We need a little more experience for such a giant. Another quilt is a reasonable size, but I don't have the right color of thread, nor am I certain about the quilting design to apply yet. Tomorrow I'll load on another muslin practice piece, and it may become our new bedspread. Roclon unbleached muslin is beautiful, cream colored, smoothly finished, and looks fairly formal when quilted in a light silvery grey thread. (See portion of whole-cloth quilt above.)
Here's my favorite quilter.

Here is some of his quilting.

 This is mine.

I thought our styles would be as different from each others as is our signature, but we seem to have a similar way of filling in spaces with thread.

Friday, February 28, 2014

SEW fun!!

We've now had our machine for a bit over a week. It's a lot of fun. That's a blessing, as we need lots of practice time on it, learning how to load quilts, and then quilt them. It feels like anything but work to work on muslin "quilt sandwiches".

I'm not a very mechanical person, but we have been told by most every person we know who has a longarm quilting biz that you must become a mechanic. Nothing complicated, but there are adjustments to be made, diagnostics to look into, constant watching of the stitch quality.

The first "quilt" made on it was loaded by Jack Boersma (of Boersma's Sewing Center) and Tom. I shot photos, hoping to document which layer of quilt went on what roller and in what order. And I scratched down notes just as quickly as I could.

Despite photos (which didn't show things as clearly as I intended) and notes (also lacking in description of which end -- top or bottom, and back or front of fabric -- of which layer -- top, batting, backing -- went where and in what order, I was lost after unloading our first little practice piece and trying to load on a bigger one. Consulting my notes, photos, two books, myriad youtube videos and a phone call to Jack Boersma, I eventually got it on the machine. And have now finished a skinny twin-sized one, simply playing with different designs, made-up or seen in one of the books I've bought.

And now I think I can load a quilt without having to tax my brain too hard.

I've quilted one charity quilt, baby sized, and we have another on hand to finish. Next week I'll pick up at least one more. And I believe someone dropped off a quilt (queen sized?) at my work today for me to practice on. All the work and expense of fabric that goes into quilts, and several people have offered to let me "practice" on their project. I am awed and honored, and hope to not disappoint them.

Tom had been finishing up some carpentry and has only begun to practice. I fear, though, he will soon catch up to me and maybe pass me up. He proved a potentially very good quilter at the class we took in early November.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Big Day

Our Gammill long-arm quilting machine has arrived, and is being set up right this very minute. We've been waiting for this for months!!! No photos yet, as they are just getting started.

This afternoon, we'll get some intensive training!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Learning New Languages

 I was born to English-speaking parents and so naturally learned their language. When I was in fifth or sixth grade, a Korean family moved to our rural area. The children attended my school. Initially, we could not communicate much. My words made no sense to their ears, nor theirs to mine. Over time, the family learned the language and culture of their adopted country. The kids excelled in school. One became a physician.

Early in my 20s, I took a medical terminology class. Not only was it required for a degree in emergency medical services and useful for my paramedic training, it continued to serve me well later when I became an RN. The mostly Latin words could be used to decode mysterious disease names or anatomical parts.

Attorneys, astronauts, mechanics, all have a language of their own. Even quilters use a vocabulary not known to the average person. Long-arm machines, sashing, hole-in-the-barn-door, feed dogs, wool batts are terms probably not thrown around a courtroom or chemistry lab or car showroom. For those of us who've sewn and quilted for years, such phrases are familiar.

Someone new to quilting might feel a little like those children who came to my school and heard only what sounded like gibberish in their first weeks. But with continued exposure, there's a breakthrough, and little-by-little, a new language is learned.

Last week, Tom surprised me with the terminology he's picking up. He pointed to a book on long-arm quilting and casually commented: "I like this combination of feathers and meanders."

New language.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Getting Ready for the Big Machine

In 2004, I spent a good chunk of the winter building a chain-link fence to enclose a little nursery that Denise and I would open later that spring. Plants needed ordered. A 10-by-12 building needed to be hauled in. Shade houses needed assembled. Many things needed to be done in preparation for our first day of business. I couldn't just snap my fingers and see our dream nursery just magically appear.

As Denise and I anticipate the arrival of our longarm quilter, we're plugging away at the many things that need to be done first. Last week we waltzed into our credit union and set up a business checking account. Oddly enough, the most important thing to me was that Quail's Nest Quiltworks be spelled correctly. The clerk asked what my official title would be. I thought for a moment and said, "Operations Manager." Sure, why not?

The website and blog are underway, and I'll handle the books as well. I'm currently building the quilting room -- which is the single most time-consuming project in all this. Reminds me of that chain-link fence. And when the Big Machine arrives in late February, Denise and I will then learn the technicalities of operating the slick contraption. Once we learn how to use and maintain it, then we'll practice like mad to perfect those beautiful feathers.

All this takes what? Time. Dreams become reality when the preparation is done.

Tom (Operations Manager)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Little Quilt that Started My Newfound Interest

Carolyn Friedlander design, Olive Grove

When my niece Timminy graduated from high school last year, I offered her two choices as a gift. Some money, which I figured would be gone in a day in the midst of her college prep shopping, or a wall quilt. She debated a little and decided on the wall quilt. I probed about style. "Non-traditional" was her phrase, and then blues and greens for colors. Trees are some of her favorite things, so that would be the theme.

I had seen and savored a very cool wall quilt hung on display at a local fabric store, and had attempted to sign up for the class they had scheduled. Alas, they'd cancelled, as too few had shown interest. I was on my own. 

Paper piecing can be so fun. Accurate, straightforward, difficult to explain to a newbie, but easily learned when the teacher stays close at hand. That had been my experience so far. 

When I began working on it, there was nothing fun about it. Nothing straightforward either. Too many odd- shaped pieces, too much brain-bending, trying to cut out chunks of fabric and line them up on the back of the paper, knowing the bit of fabric needed to be folded away from the sewn seam and trimmed carefully. A mis-cut might not be noticed until down the line, after several other seams depended on that earlier one. The first of nine blocks took many hours to complete, and I was not sure I could make myself go on to another. I told Tom "I'd rather poke my eye out with a pencil than finish this quilt."

But there was the fabric, all purchased and ready, calling for me to continue. And then there was the niece, expecting a modern quilt of greens and blues, of trees, to hang on a dorm room wall. I kept going, a little at a time. By the last block, I had each down to a little more than an hour apiece -- if I didn't make any mistakes.

After the top was completed, I still had a ways to go. I had no idea how to machine quilt, and the next class on the subject lay a couple months in the future of Timminy's departure to college. So I committed to trying to finish it by Christmas, or at least the end of her Christmas break.

I finished the little quilt yesterday, presented it to her today. And this afternoon, she'll hang it on her dorm wall. I hope my sister-in-law will bring a phone photo of it gracing the space above her bed when she returns.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Pretty Little Stitches

I admit to being a quilting snob in my past. I would not have dreamed of machine quilting my finished piecework had I even known how. My neat, tiny stitches completed every quilt project I made. But being a hand-quilter meant constant holes in my fingers from tiny needles driven time and again through the layers of backing, batting and quilt top.

During the years I worked in an emergency department, intact skin held a high level of importance for me. I don't like to remember all the body fluids I dealt with. Yes, I wore gloves. But my own intact skin helped protect me as well. And I still work as an RN, but that is only part of the reason I'll not likely ever return to hand-finishing my work.

Less than a year ago, I made the most amazing discovery: machine quilting has come a long way, and can be every bit as beautiful, creative as with tiny needle, thread and thimble at the quilting frame. The time saved makes the more modern way far more practical.  I'm head over heels loving what machine stitching adds to a beautiful pieced quilt top.
Everything you see on this blog now and for the next month or so will be done on a home sewing machine. 

I really love the designs and texture, the way the stitches can draw attention to the piecework or call attention to themselves.
Tom and I will soon be quilting on a long-arm machine. Give us a few weeks of further learning and practice. Please come back to check the blog as we begin to post new photos of our quilt-work in the near future.