I consider myself an expert at machine applique and have always had positive comments from judges at shows about my applique technique and design. There are those who think that with this talent, I should easily be able to machine quilt on my home Bernina. Over the years, I have done some basic machine quilting but I have had my large quilts done by long arm machine quilters Cheri Trexler and Lisa Arndt. I have read all the books by the experts and taken Sue Nickel's excellent class - twice. Yes, I've done my homework. Recently, I did machine quilt Camellia and Plain Jane which are nice small wall hangings. I had little difficulty and I like my results.
Now, I'm attempting to machine quilt Bittersweet Too measuring 56" x 56" which is not huge, but it is definitely more to handle. Some of the detail quilting I've done:
This is definitely a learning experience and I'll share what I've learned so far.
- Wool batting is wonderful. I love natural fibers and I love how lightweight it is and how it feels, but it has more loft than cotton batting (my usual choice). It is used by machine quilters who do a lot of detail stitching. I won't choose it again - not until I'm much better at this. I will need to add background detail to tame down that extra loft.
- My thread choice for the detail stitching was #30/3 polyester New Brytes by Superior Threads with #50/3 polyester So Fine for the bobbin, also Superior Threads. These are wonderful threads and the #30/3 gives the definition and bolder stitch I want, but boy you better have nice even stitches when your stitches show that much. Again: better left to the experts. I have ripped out a lot of stitches and this is one thing you never want to have to do. A better choice would have been a much finer thread. This is common advice for beginners, but I ignored it.
- I was stitching along with some success when I began to have trouble with my machine tension. I've never had a single problem with my machine and I tried everything I could - cleaned and oiled my machine, practiced on sample after sample, adjusted the bobbin tension etc. I had change my needle, but to a different size which was not recommended. Then I simply tried another new needle in the correct size, and like magic all was fine again! I better order a case of those needles. By the way, I highly recommend Superior Threads for high quality supplies: www.superiorthreads.com.
- Don't let anyone kid you: working on those little 12" x 12" machine quilting samples or a small wall hanging is a lot easier than trying to handle bigger quilts. The American Quilter's Society quilt show in Paducah, KY has a separate category for quilts which are quilted on home machines. It is a very special talent and I am always in awe of those quilts.
- Another very important element of machine quilting is the quilting design itself. It needs to be planned while you are designing and making the quilt. I am always amazed at the beautiful designs that expert machine quilters come up with.
- The frustrating part for me right now is that I'm not happy with the quality of my work so far, though many would say it's just fine. To me, technique is just as important as color and design. Well, maybe one day I'll be as good at machine quilting as I am at applique. I know it will take years of practice.