Thursday, September 9, 2010

O! The Joy! The Joy!

Why the exultation?  Because I have finally conquered the basics of quilting on a frame with a sewing machine.

There are 3 ways to quilt (quilting attaches the 3 layers of quilt top, batting/stuffing inside, and back of the quilt)
  • by hand.  been there, done that, takes me YEARS to finish one quilt.
  • by sewing machine.  the machine sits on the table and you shove the quilt through it.  Big quilt + little sewing machine = massive pain in the tukhus. Takes me WEEKS to finish a quilt.  been there, done that, never going back again.
  • by sewing machine on a frame.  You pin the quilt top and back to rollers, the sewing machine sits on a platform on wheels.  You push the sewing machine around on the quilt, rather than pushing the quilt through a sewing machine.  Takes a few DAYS to finish a quilt.
So it's that last one I have recently conquered.  By halfway through the quilt I had worked out all the technical kinks and was able to quilt without stopping every couple of minutes to re-thread the machine, or to replace a broken sewing machine needle.

Will It Go Round In Circles?
I found the frame years ago at the Habitat for Humanity store in Burlington, NC.  Luck played a big role here.  I visit that store no more than once a month.  The frame had arrived the day before and had just been put out in the store.  It's a Pennywinkle frame designed for use with a home sewing machine (there ARE bigger frames and bigger machines available and if I ever see such at a thrift shop I'll be all over it.)

It sat in my studio for years while my so-called career sputtered and finally died.  THEN and only then I had time to play with it.  I quilted a small practice quilt on it, then Greg and Amber's "will it go round in circles" quilt, then Patty and Len's Stargate quilt, and finally three baby quilts.  The system was cantankerous.  It worked, but very slowly as I had to pause often to replace broken threads or needles. The last baby quilt almost broke my spirit.  I had to walk away from it and take a fairly long break after that, but kept on reading about the process on sewing and quilting blogs and boards.


Last week I fired 'er up again.  I had pieced a twin bargello top on my 1922 Singer treadle, and I loaded it on the frame.  Here's what is different this time:
  • all Pfaff bobbins are not created equal.  the ones with the groove work.  the others do not.  I discovered that a warped bobbin was probably the sole cause of anguish over the last baby quilt.
  • cotton batting instead of polyester
  • polyester thread, top and bobbin, instead of cotton machine quilting thread.  Cotton has very little "give" to it, poly has a bit of stretch.  I used Gutermann's basic poly all purpose thread, and will try Coats & Clarks Dual Duty Plus the next time.
  • a bigger (size 16) needle.  No more broken needles, amazing.  Size really DOES matter after all. 
Among all that reading and learning I was also considering whether to get a new machine to go on the frame.  In short, no.  I have a Pfaff 1221, which was a top of the line machine back in the early 1970's and decades ahead of its time.  I love this machine, and it would be my basic go-to machine IF I hadn't splurged on a new Janome when I retired and IF this one wasn't perfect for frame quilting.  Why, you ask, is it perfect?
  • it has a vertical rather than horizontal bobbin.  the advice on the boards is that this works better.
  • it has an 8" harp, which is the opening between the needle and the vertical arm of the machine.  The bigger the harp, the more quilt you can shove around.  My other machines have 6" harps.
The Pfaff was also a Habitat find, this one from their Durham store.  It cost $15, and is a better machine than a modern one costing 100X as much, which is NOT an exaggeration.  It was frozen in thread tangles when I bought it, and not running, which explains the price.  I de-tangled and oiled it and it runs like a champ.  It came with the carrying case, the manual, an extension table and ALL of the original feet.  This machine regularly sells on eBay in the $300-$400 range. 

The down side to using a regular sewing machine on a frame is that you can only quilt a very narrow path at a time.  I can quilt about a 4" wide path.  If I were willing to spend thousands of dollars I could get a midarm or even longarm machine (with much bigger harps) and a bigger frame to carry it, and quilt much wider paths.  Since this is not an option I have decided to be happy about my system which cost $240 total (the frame was $225).

And there is something cool about exploring all that you can within limitations (the 4" quilting path).  Now that the system is working for me I can build my skills and design quilting patterns that will work within that narrow path. And believe me, there is PLENTY of room for skill building.  Being able to do it and being able to do it well are entirely different.

I think I should stop at two double entendres and call it a day!

1 comment:

  1. Good luck with all your quilts.I have a proflex frame with a Juki. I, too, would love a bigger machine but I'm not willing to spend the money. If I do free motion, I get a slightly wider path and the quilts go faster. But I don't use cotton batting, just low loft poly. Cotton is too heavy for my tastes.

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