One of my gifts to myself this year is permission to fail. Sometimes, even with a second chance, a quilting project just doesn’t work and I can’t make it work. So, the freedom to fail gives me the chance to accept that the piece didn’t work without feeling I’ve failed as a quilter. Then, once I’ve acknowledged the elephant in the room, I can figure out what went wrong and think about what I’d do differently if I could start over.
Sometimes my project doesn’t work because its proportions are wrong. Sometimes the problem is poor color/value choices, lack of coherency (the vision thing), or even bad/inept technique. And then sometimes I don’t think much of the finished product, but others say they really like it. And I don’t think they have ulterior motives.
Here’s a quilt that started as a different shape. After it was bound I decided I just couldn’t live with its proportions. It was too wide. So I ripped out part of the binding, cut off part, requilted, and rebound it. It’s still off, but not as much off as it was. Now, that was a huge leap somewhere for me, since I’ll do almost anything to avoid “unsewing.”
Usually color doesn’t give me problems, but occasionally value trips me up. I’ve gotten better over the years at putting in some bashful colors that don’t scream look at me, but enhance the bold colors. I really, really love color. Right now I’m working on a quilt where I made a real effort to use subtle colors. I even used bone and taupe, gasp.
Then there’s the coherency thing. Sometimes, especially when I’m making up an original quilt, what I’m trying to convey gets muddled. I get over exuberant and cram in too much. Unfortunately, there’s no fix for this problem except to re-purpose the top as a backing or cut it up/unsew it to use in another project. More than I’d like, what looks so wonderful on my design wall at 9 p.m. that I sew it together isn’t so great in the cold light of day. I need to remember the rule about accessorizing – after you think you’re finished, remove one item. The lesson here for me is: sleep on it.
Finally, technique. There’s a reason experts recommend you practice a new technique on a sample before you use it on your “good” project. Unfortunately, what works on a small piece can go awry on a larger one. I still shudder at the mess I made of satin stitching around 2 inch circles. And I even used stabilizer. No one is going to give me prizes for my technical sewing skills, but I don’t like my quilts to evoke made by loving hands at home.
What’s the good of failures? They’re great for practicing free motion quilting because I don’t worry about ruining them. They keep me humble. They make me think about whether the quilt has a point/mood, other than to sew a bunch of colored fabrics together. They make me analyze how I can achieve what I want. And they give me a nice supply of quilt backs.
In my decades long infatuation with fabric I seem to have overlooked something even more basic to quilting – the thread that holds everything together. For years I’ve bought a few neutrals to piece with and 40 weight black, white and cream thread to quilt. Yet thread is beginning to insinuate itself into my quilting life. Thick thread, variegated thread, metallic thread, holographic thread, thread that snarls up my sewing machine, thread I apply by hand.
And with the discovery of thread comes a new passion on which to lavish money. How can I resist the Kinetic Kelly or Molten Mocha holographic thread offered on one website? The website claims this thread is “Perfect for cross stitch, needlepoint, crochet, knitting, bead knitting, bead crochet, fly fishing, crafting, embroidery, quilting, crazy quilting, and any creative technique.” Fly fishing?
Like many quilters I’ve taken it as an article of faith that the only kind of thread to use is cotton; maybe silk for fancy handwork. Yet longarm quilters have adopted polyester thread with enthusiasm, and other pros in the quilting world are also espousing polyester thread. I gather it has to do with lint creation (or the lack of lint) when sewing at high speeds for long periods of time. Poly advocates says it’s also thinner and stronger. Here’s a video from Superior Threads about the differences between cotton and polyester thread. According to the video, poly thread is NOT stronger than cotton thread, and will NOT cause a quilt to shred. So, what’s a quilter to do?
I guess it’s time for some thread myth busting. (Say that 3 times, fast.) And time to learn new terminology like high tenacity trilobal and textured polyester. Here’s an explanation of how thread tension works from Superior Thread’s website. Its solutions are pretty basic, but it does offer some tips. Now I know to use a poly bobbin thread when I have metallic thread on top. I have tried Bottom Line, a 60 weight polyester thread, in my bobbin to fit more thread on the bobbin. Next, I’ll try cotton bobbin thread with polyester on top. Supposedly it “grips” the poly thread better.
From now on I’ll need to pay more attention to my tension settings as I try different threads. While I knew to loosen the tension with metallic and holographic threads, I should also be loosening it with a bunch of other threads according to this table from Superior Threads.
The only downside to thread love is that all these tempting varieties are simply not very available where I live. The local JoAnn’s carries Guterman (which feels like rope after sewing with Aurifil), Sulky rayon and some other decorative thread, and Coats and Clarks. A local sewing machine center sells a few lines of Superior Thread but really focuses on machine embroiderers’ needs. The internet is great for thread shopping, but you can’t pool some thread on your fabric to see how it’s going to look. It looks like I’ll just have to attend more national quilt shows to shop for thread in person. What a sacrifice that will be.
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