Wednesday, February 26, 2014

First finish of 2014 and Reflections on Machine Quilting

My first quilt of 2014 is complete! Thank you all for your encouragement on machine quilting. It's been helpful to know that I am not the only one who gets stressed out over this whole process.

Although this wasn't my first ever machine quilting experience, I realized that the time in between two projects also dictates how I feel when I start these projects. I am almost certain that if I were to baste and quilt another quilt this week, I wouldn't be so worked up about it.

LeeAnn suggested using a thinner thread. It's a great tip! In the past I have used the thinner thread, it helps a lot since you are not refilling the bobbin as frequently.

I would also think little harder when I choose the color of the thread. With busy patterns and vibrant colors of this quilt, it was difficult to see the variegated thread I was using. I am okay with variation in the stitches but when I don't see the pattern forming with thread, it was hard to navigate through stitching.

My stitching was better when I could see the design and on darker or busier surfaces I was almost blind stitching. If that's even possible!

Handling the Quilt on the Machine
Most of my stress comes when I am working on the center of the quilt. Bulky quilts are hard to maneuver on a home machine. I was feeling the tightness in my shoulders, which was then slowly and surely creeping down onto my hands. I was pressing down the quilt so hard that it was holding me back from guiding it gently through the machine. As soon as I let go of that tightness, the quilting was better.
I guess that glass of wine must have helped but I don't drink wine so I settled for some music. Listening to CNN was not helping at all!

Owning it all!
In my earlier post I said my quilt was ruined. That's true, that's how I felt then. But the fact that I have still kept it the way it is, some how it suggests that I am thinking of someday redo the quilting. . Even if I said that to any of you, I know, it's never going to happen. I would rather be making new quilts than tearing old ones apart. They are truly the marks of my journey as a quilter. I like to be reminded on how far I have come from the first baby steps I took in 2006 with machine quilting. But the fact that I haven't bound it, suggests that I'm not owning it. Guess what I will be doing this weekend?

Why Machine Quilt when I enjoy Hand Quilting?
Belinda said she has 25 quilt tops hanging in the closet. I do too! Barb says she machine quilts some quilts for the assurance on wear and tear on the quilt. Nat Said she sends some of her quilts out to a professional machine quilter.
They all have good points. I need to have some of my caterpillar quilt tops turn into quilts. Unless I choose either one of the options of quilting, they are not magically turn into a butterflies. And there is no way I am going to quilt all of my quilts by hand. Then there is this theory I followed for a while - I would be okay with all stacked up tops! Now it's starting to bother me too. Not because of the number of quilt tops I have but because they are all folded and stored away, out of sight. I want to see them more often and use them as quilts.

The Stack!
I love my stack of finished quilts.. Not only they keep us warm in the evenings but they bring such excitement in everyone's eyes when they see them. I want that for myself for my old quilt tops in suitcase. I want them to be new quilts in the family room. This winter has been so cold, we have practically used every single quilt I have.
I have sent my quilts to the long-arm quilters in the past and still planning to for some of the large quilts.
If I were comfortable with my machine quilting, I would make more quilts for charity and for gifts.

Practice makes it better, if not perfect
I am not looking for perfection. For so many reasons, I would like to just get comfortable with machine quilting and enjoy it. We all know that everything gets better with practice. I have no doubt that if I continued, I will loose all the anxiety and figure out easier ways to handle the stress in this process and eventually completely avoid it.
I have tried practicing on smaller quilts and it works like magic! But when it comes to larger quilts, it's trickier. So now I am going to practice on larger quilts. I am not the kind of person who worries about the irregularities in my work. In fact, I love that about quilting. I just want to be comfortable. I have machine quilted large quilts before, just not as gracefully, that's all!

Respect for the Process of Machine Quilting 

Kavita's Ferris Wheel, 2011, designed, pieced and machine quilted by Sujata Shah
By no means I think machine quilting is easier than hand quilting or, it has lesser place in my mind. Whether I  machine quilt or by hand, I personally go through the process, I am guiding my quilt, if free motion quilting is done, I am designing as I go, so I do understand that it is still hand work. I am very much involved, almost too involved. I can't look up, I can't talk while I quilt, I am pretending to be listening to the music but all I am hearing is the sound of my machine. It gets tiring and frustrating if I let it get to me.

Julie said it right -" I so respect and admire the work machine quilters do (domestic, mid arm, and long arm - especially those who do hand guided stitching)." I so agree with her.

I made super queen size Ferris Wheel in 2010, it was for my daughter's bed so it had to be machine quilted. I quilted this one with all my mighty! 

All that quilting created heavy texture on the quilt and it's been washed a few times. I love textures of all kinds!

Sometimes you also need that feeling of accomplishment. Machine quilting allows me to do that. I would not have been able to finish three quilts on time for Christmas for my kids any other way.

Snow Blossoms, 2014

Snow Blossoms is done! It's still snowing. Another snow storm is around the corner. Glad I was working on this quilt and not crying over the endless winter other than few occasions.

Thank you! Each one of you, for participating in this conversation by leaving comments on the previous post. None of us love it but we all agreed, it has to be done!

It gave me lot to ponder over which I did by hand quilting one of the mini quilts. That was a great way to wind down from all that machine quilting.


  1. How I loved reading of your journey Sujata! Your winter blossoms are lovely and bring the fragrance of a spring that looms in the wings! I have a large quilt top looking at me, think I will try your idea and alternate between one by machine and hand quilting a smaller piece . Thanks friend, always a pleasure.

  2. So many good points articulated here, Sujata. As one who has spent too much time thinking about machine quilting and hardly any time practicing, I think I'll be revisiting your post. Maybe this is the year of facing all of my concerns about it and just diving in! I am in total agreement re: wanting to use and enjoy my quilts vs. enjoying a stack of unfinished tops.

  3. This is such a wonderful post Sujata!! I have very similar blocks to machine quilting. I like the way you say you're not striving for perfection but about being comfortable and enjoying it. That's my problem, I don't enjoy it, it's just something I have to do sometimes. Thanks to your valuable insight I'll try again with a lighter heart.

  4. I think we are too hard on ourselves sometimes. I will bet anyone would look at your quilt and say how beautiful it is!

  5. Gorgeous quilts....all of them! And I loved your comment about not watching CNN while quilting! That's so true.....I have to be in the right mood to machine quilt, and the tv, drink, room temperature, etc.....they all have to be just right, or I just can't enjoy it! No depressing news shows while I'm quilting.....only Jane Austen movies! :o)

  6. Thanks for this. I enjoy both hand quilting and free motion quilting, and I pick the method according to the quilt. I like the look of hand quilting, but the speed of free motion. I used to disparage machine quilting as cheating but I have found the learning curve much longer when it comes to getting even small stitches on the machine. I like hand work, and I like machine work.

  7. Enjoyed your post. My husband bought me a walking foot last year, so I've tried to learn how to use it. Hopefully the more I use it the less stressed I'll be about the possibility of 'ruining' one of my quilts.:)

  8. Your quilted quilts are beautiful! I remember seeing them in the store where you worked here. I admired the simple, utilitarian quilting. It made me feel like I could do it too. I am finding myself become more interested in machine quilting as I think about it as a creative endeavor. When I think about myself as an artist adding texture to my piece, it's almost as exciting as designing a new quilt.

  9. Sujata, you are a great quilter whichever way you finished your quilts. I haven't given myself time to practice with machine quilting. I will do it one day. Donna Ward promised to teach me when I'm ready. I'm as excited to get my quilts back from Donna as I quilt them myself. Without Donna, I wouldn't have finished any quilt to used. Enjoy reading all your thought process. Thanks for sharing it with us - Hugs Nat

  10. As usual, your color choices are a delight to the heart! I machine quilt most of mine. Like you, I like the ownership of the entire process... and I love touching the fabric. Machine quilting certainly is helpful on bed-size quilts; however, it usually feels as if I'm a beginner again each time I start one. And the "invisible stitching line" is a constant issue. Thanks for laying out the reasoning so elegantly.

  11. Snow Blossoms is beautiful. A great mix of colours and fabrics - plus your choice of machine fmq works perfectly. Yes, indeed, time to turn those quilt tops into quilted delights for all to enjoy. Each style of quilting seems to have it's place, sometimes the quilt seems to help you make the decision for you.

  12. In the end, the quilt is loved because you made it. No one will be analysing your stitches. I let the quilt tell me what to do and then quilt it by hand or machine. Both are intense because of their different natures. Machining means an afternoon of sore hands and back but a finished quilt top to show for it. Hand quilting means theraputic stitching but still sore hands and months of waiting. Just like in your house, the quilts are snuggled under and enjoyed and that's what counts.

  13. I really enjoyed reading this post. You got right to the heart of the matter and I truly appreciate what you had to say. Take care, Byrd

    1. Thank you! I needed to get to the bottom of why I resisted machine quilting. After all, we all like finished quilts better than the piles of tops in the closet.

  14. I agree, I agree! When I started quilting, I learned traditional methods from older ladies. I thought that hand quilting was the only REAL quilting. Now, 30 years later, I have changed my mind! I like big stitch quilting with pearl cotton (size 8 or 12) because of the look and the speed. I also do simple machine quilting, but don't want to do anything over about 36". (By the way, you didn't mention whether or not you use quilting gloves - they help and reduce shoulder/neck/hand strain). I have had store samples machine quilted by "professionals". And I have stacks of unfinished tops .... sometimes it's just more fun to try out a new idea or put together a new fabric combination! I can piece a lot faster than I can finish. Oh, well!

  15. What a great post! Hats off to you for moving forward on new things and not "fixing" what is just fine. My favorite thought is "Practice makes better, not Perfect" I love that. Its so true. I also really applaud you for tackling your quilt tops and getting them done. What a great accomplishment and what a lovely stack of quilts!
    I'm planning to start quilting a big quilt today - thanks for the push.

  16. gorgeous stack of quilts! Yup, I have quite a lot of tops too. sigh.

  17. Sujata, I have seen you around the web, on several different sites, and have always been in awe with your creativity, your sense of color, and the amount of things that you can accomplish. I was surprised to see that you have problems with machine quilting. I too have problems with machine quilting - sometimes it works for me, and other times it doesn't. I enjoyed reading this post to see that you are not superhuman. Your house is really pretty, you are a great photographer, your quilts are pretty and you keep learning. If you were perfect at everything, there would be no joy in it.

  18. I'm trying to clear out the quilt tops in my stack…I keep thinking that quilt tops don't keep anybody warm! :D
    One of my professors in college said something that's stuck with me through the years. It was in a painting class…"Practice, not precious." It's such a freeing idea to apply to quilting as well. Beautiful quilt- love the colors so much!!

  19. Terrific job and wonderful commentary. You can do it as long as you remember that nothing in this world is perfect. Your quilts come closer than any I know. Beautiful beautiful beautiful

  20. you are an amazing quilter sujata..i need to take some more time to browse thru your beautiful much of awesome work...

  21. Sujata, your quilts are all absolutely gorgeous! I admire your bravery in machine quilting large size quilts. I have no fear of machine quilting in and of itself, but I have always been frustrated when trying to cram a big quilt in the machine... the weight, the lack of space and difficulty in moving it through. It's been a long time now since I even tried. Your post makes me think... maybe it's time to try again, but this time with the spirit of practice, not perfection. Thanks for a great post!


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