Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Trying something new

A couple of months ago one of the Monday Modern girls kindly donated a Handi Quilter frame to anyone who wanted to try it out. I picked it up this weekend thinking that I would give it a go - nobody else seemed interested. I watched the (long) setup instructional video that I found on YouTube. It was a bit daunting. The first thing I realised was that taping this thing to my French oak dining table was not an option, so went to the local hardware super store and purchased a reasonably-priced 6-foot trestle table and a few rolls of clear packing tape.

I had won 38 low-volume string heart blocks from Block Lotto in February. I figured I could piece together a small quilt using these blocks without a huge time investment and use it as my guinea pig project.

The initial setup was easy enough but did take a while. The worst thing was the slight numbness on my finger tips after sticking and unsticking packing tape to them (see Mythbusters 'Duct Tape Island' episode for an extreme case of this type of injury).

The loading of the quilt was a little fussy, but I managed this with the help of a spare pair of hands. I admit it was easier than the usual laying out of the sandwich and pin basting.

With my machine ready to go, I realised that my usual approach to quilting did not work with this method. Basically on a frame you must quilt in long, narrow strips. You can't start in one spot and then move to another like I'm used to when FMQ without a frame. At this point I knew that I had put it on heading in the wrong direction. But, I tried anyway to do a few passes. Lesson: you can only go from one end to another, no 'skipping' sections. So, I pulled it all off and unpicked all of the quilting I had done and started over.

I'll stop here to say that I am not against this approach to quilting. The learning curve for any new skill can be steep. But, my entire living room is dominated by this project, and it was not going well.

After taking a night off, I came back to it and reloaded the quilt facing the other way. It's a little quilt (36" x 54") but it takes the full width of the rack. I'd need 2 tables to do anything bed sized. I then discovered that I can only stitch up to 6" from the end pieces of the frame. So, I'm left with the two edges unreachable.

Moving on...I continue forward. Try a few things. Stop and unpick. Repeat. Unpick. Grr.....

Here's my problem right now: the machine moves quite freely without much resistance so controlling it is difficult. I find myself overshooting all of the time and a 'straight' line seems impossible. It's like using an etch and sketch - the machine moves horizontally and vertically and theoretically you can create any line by combining these, but it's hard.

Did I mention that I broke a needle somewhere in this process?

It was time to try another approach - I am in the process of taking over the Juki domestic sewing machine agency in New Zealand and now had access to another machine. This one with a much bigger opening to work with, so, I swapped machines. A better option, but it sure goes fast (scary fast).

I decided to sacrifice the first row of the quilt and just go at it.

My conclusions (with some male advice and analysis):

  • You need some kind of hand control or a machine that you can turn on and off - trying to use the foot pedal is impossible.
  • The bigger the space under your machine's arm, the better. Even one more inch makes a huge difference.
  • Don't buy a cheap table with a plastic top, it is not smooth and even (also my 80-year old native timber floors don't help). I have read that people mount the frame on a flat hollow door and this can work well.
  • Be right handed - I am not, and controlling the machine with my left hand while standing on the 'good' side of the machine was hard.

I have not given up, but will take a break from this approach to quilting until I can resolve some of the issues above. I have a solution for some already, but my left-handedness is not negotiable. I know it's strange to stand on the 'wrong' side, but I might give it a go.

Manwhile - to my lovely friends at Block Lotto - I will sadly be cutting off the row that I demolished with crappy quilting and will use the few blocks I have left and a few more that I will make to recreate a row. I will quilt it using my usual FMQ techniques (and this Juki machine). Stay tuned...