west coast delight, but a quilting disaster

Writing today from sunny Santa Barbara; travel yesterday went surprisingly smoothly and I was cooing over E’s new baby girl by early afternoon!  She’s so sweet (and soooo tiny–I haven’t been around a lot of newborns so its really striking).  I had a suitcase packed full of goodies for them–funky and awesome thrift store finds, a colorful birth announcement print I whipped up at the last minute (a fun typographic design with the name, date, birth weight, etc), and last but certainly not least, the baby quilt I’ve been working on since December!  Except, oops, that last one’s not really finished….

Despite my best (frantic) efforts on Saturday, I could not get this quilted in time.  I had been procrastinating the quilting stage for months, and it looks like that was for good reason! The quilt top has been finished since January–I even had the binding made, but was playing chicken with actually finishing.  I had never machine quilted before, but I read a bunch of tutorials, bought the right machine foot, 100% cotton thread and I’d been practicing over the past week or two on mini quilt sandwiches.  It was going sort of okay; I had a lot of issues with keeping the stitches an even length, but I was pretty good at going in good swirlies.  I should note here though that I never practiced with the cotton quilting thread, just whatever was in my machine.  Probably a mistake, as you will see.

By Thursday I had the quilt back put together, and the quilt sandwiched together (I used the quilt basting spray vs. the pinning method) and was ready to tackle the actual quilting.  But I was still kind of scared to get started, so I procrastinated some more.  Friday I was totally swamped with last minute grocery shopping and food preparing for my hubbie (don’t want him to go hungry while I’m away), so I couldn’t really work on it.

Saturday morning, I was up early and got my sewing room all set up for the main event.  I moved my sewing machine to my cutting table so I would have space for the quilt to be fully on a tabletop; I even stacked up a bunch of my plastic storage containers on the other side of my table to make SURE there was enough room for the quilt to be constantly supported and not hang over the table edge.  I wound two bobbins of the cotton thread, attached the free motion foot, dropped the feed dogs and got my quilt in place.

And off I went.  For about 30 seconds. Then my (first) needle broke.  Hmm, annoying, re-needled and started again.  I think I might have sewn for about 45 seconds the second time before the needle snapped.  Okay, must need a much beefier needle (I was using size 80/12 originally)–swapped to my jeans needle.  This is when I got my best run in–no more needle breaking, but on two occasions the prong of semi-circular foot got caught in a somewhat long stitch, pulling up a loop of thread and impeding motion.  Each time that happened, I had to stop, pluck out the last few stitches up to the loop and start again.  It was in one of these instances that I noticed from the backside of the quilt that the thread tension didn’t seem quite enough.  I knew from my practice quilts I needed to turn the tension up, and had it up to 7, but it looked like would be better to turn it up more (in some spots, especially around the curves, I could see the little loop of the upper thread protruding to the underside).  So I turned it up to 8 and went back to sewing.  For 30 more seconds.  Then the thread snapped.  So I turned the tension back down a bit and started again. Except the thread snapped again, AND the underside looked worse.  This happened one more time before I decided to give up (yeah, I’m stubborn, I should have stopped WAY sooner).  With all the starts and stops and tension issues, the quilting really didn’t look that great, especially from the backside, so I decided to just pick it all out.  In total, I had gone about 36 inches down the quilt (in about a 8″ wide swath), so it was doable, but with all the winding around it added up to quite a lot of unpicking.

I don’t know if my machine just doesn’t like doing free-motion, or if I need a different thread or needle or what.  But I think I will either just quilt it in straight lines with my walking foot, or see about outsourcing the quilting bit to someone who has experience free-motion quilting and knows what they’re doing.

But I packed it up and brought it to California with me anyway, glad I did because they did love it and were excited about having a handmade quilt for baby, but I’m sad its not finished and I can’t leave it with them.  Happily though, I won’t even need to worry about mailing it back out, because they are moving to my area in another month for E’s new job.  That’s exciting for many more reasons that saving on quilt postage!  So this will now be a housewarming gift for baby. 🙂

Oh, almost forgot to mention, I used this tutorial for the Stacked Coins Baby Quilt over at  Moda Bakeshop for the quilt top and back (using some charm packs I found at JoAnn Fabric).  I decided to make a quilt for E pretty much as soon as she told me she was pregnant, and when I started this project she didn’t yet know the sex of the baby, so I chose something cheery and bright but gender-neutral.

If you are a quilter and reading this post, suggestions welcome–feel free to unabashedly tell me where I went wrong with my quilt disaster!


2 thoughts on “west coast delight, but a quilting disaster

  1. Hi Sara! I really like your blog! I’m a friend of Nancy Taylor’s and also know Martha and Gerald and the Narehood bunch.
    I’ve quilted for a long time but have never been successful with free motion quilting. If I’m quilting, I usually do stich-in-the-ditch, outline, etc. I usually pay someone to do an allover free motion with a long-arm machine. Love your baby quilt and hope you get it quilted in some fashion before too long.

  2. Sara,
    Who _wouldn’t_ love receiving that handmade quilt, especially since you’ve stretched your skills to create it! E must be thrilled. Nice job. Hope you get the tip you need to solve your issues. Enjoy your visit with baby!

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