One of my favorite things about quilting for others, and that I’m most proud of, is helping people finish their quilts in the way they want, so that they look their best. My goal with my quilting is to take the top my customer has worked so hard on and add my quilting as an additional element, not the star of the show (unless specifically asked). There’s another layer to that (get it? layer? harhar!), though, which is being able to help with quilts that have a couple of problems here and there, to take a top that may have some issues and quilt them in a way those issues largely seem to disappear.
Sometimes, the quilts I get are sent to me because the quilting technique involved is outside the skill set of the piecer, and I’m not talking freemotion skills, but the ability to manipulate fabric in a way that gives the appearance of a flat top with straight lines. You’ve probably heard the phrase “that will quilt out”, and if you’re a longarmer, it’s usually said to you with a hope-tinged uplift at the end, more of a question than a statement. The tops I sometimes get may have some wibbles and wobbles that require a bit of extra effort to work with, so that it doesn’t wind up with puckers or pleats. Quite frequently, there are things we longarmers can do to help with tops that have an issue here or there (within reason, y’all).
And before I get going on this topic, I want to tell you I know how to help with quilts like this because…. I had to quilt my own. And let me tell you, learning how to quilt my own quilts more than prepared me for any wibbles and wobbles I get now! When I first got my longarm a few years ago, I had a pile of tops that I couldn’t wait to quilt. What I didn’t realize until I put them on the frame was how my piecing technique (or lack, in some cases) resulted in tops that were not square and had crazy wibbles and wobbles. Until that point, I had blissfully been piecing away thinking I didn’t need to know the rules, and could do what I want, and that’s true, I could! but the flip side was that I would have to also know enough about quilting to be able deal with the resulting top when it came time to quilt.
The next quilt I’m sharing today (with full permission!) is one I completed for a friend of mine. It was a gorgeous top and needed a quilting job that would help certain parts of it lie flat.
A Beautiful Quilt with Wobbles
When Jane first sent me her Daybreak quilt, she said she wanted something manly since it was a surprise for her dad. It’s an interesting quilt to work with, because the edges can be left untrimmed and keep their points, or it can be trimmed square.
It’s also interesting to work with because the piecing and cutting makes for a great deal of what I think of as “free bias”, where the diamonds are cut so that most, if not all, of the edges are not on grain, in this case, the diamonds used for the stars and also the parallelograms for the secondary points. The second issue is that the black fabric used for the spaces between the stars *is* cut on grain. If special care isn’t taken to minimize the bias stretching in the stars, you can (and probably will) wind up with something like this:
This can (and does) happen to everyone until we learn how to control for it. For a long time, *all* my quilts were like this, until I realized I could do things differently. In this case, the bias edges in the diamonds caused for a great deal of stretch, which is what we in the longarm world call “cups”, like with brassieres, which can and do come in all shapes and sizes. You can also see how the black fabric is perfectly flat and true, which only makes the stars puff up more.
How to Avoid the Wobbles
This is something we can largely avoid as we’repiecing by using one simple technique: starching our fabric well before cutting and piecing.There are a variety of fabric stiffeners out there, but two of my favorites (because they are scent free) are not necessarily appropriate to use for this. Best Press and Flatter are both fabric sizing (which is a product developed for synthetic fabrics), not starch (for use on cottons), which makes me a sad kitten. They perform differently with the types of fibers of your fabric, and while they can make it feel stiffer, they do not act so much like a gentle glue that keeps the fibers of the bias in place, as starch does. You can read more about the difference here. For this, I’d go with starch. When I’m ironing, though, and need to get some wrinkles out or “revitalize” the things I’ve already I starched, I reach for the Best Press or Flatter.
How to Quilt Out the Wobbles
Before beginning any type of quilting, whether domestic or longarm, lay that top out flat on the floor and take a good hard look at it. Any problem areas will show up pretty quickly as humps or ripples in the fabric, that will not lie flat on the floor despite gentle massages or firmer tugs. Knowing what areas on the top need help will give you a game plan for how to approach it. If the areas are coming up off the floor an inch or more, adding puffy batting such as wool or poly will really help. Puffy battings fill up some of that extra space and suck up the extra fabric in those areas, and when you quilt down the surrounding areas, it looks like you meant for it to have that definition, and looks awesome to boot. For this quilt, I used a wool batt.
At this point, you will want to think about how to make the piecing lines look straight. On a longarm or domestic, I’d highly recommend stitching in the ditch (otherwise known as SID), to get those lines nice and crisp and straight, so they don’t bow out or wobble.
Then it’s time to quilt out the fullness. To do this, you can pretty much pick a style of design that will allow you to smoosh and moosh the fabric around. I wanted to pick something that was less floral since it was for a guy, and went with a look that said more “sunburst” than “daisy”.the slight openness of the design also allowed space for the fabric to go without creating (too many) puckers; at the end, I only had one or two that I just couldn’t avoid.
I suppose I want you to know two things: think about using starch “for reals” if you are going to be working with a great deal of bias, and yes, many things can be quilted out in the end, if you’re OK with a couple of puckers or even some pleats. These issues mostly can be avoided with a little practice on the piecing and quilting sides, and it is nothing to be afraid of trying for yourself. Let me know if you have any questions, and I will be happy to answer them as I can! The point of this post was not to scare you away from piecing or quilting, but to share with you some techniques for what to do when it happens. Happy quilting!