I have now taken five of my six one-on-one introductory lessons with a Handi Quilter educator, Cheryl, via Zoom. (Apparently that was a Back-to-School promotion that I didn’t even know I was eligible for.) The manuals that came with my machine only go so far to tell me how to actually quilt with Moxie. The manuals are supplemented by series of videos on the Handi Quilter website and on the Pro-Stitcher website. Plus, many quilters post their own video tutorials on YouTube.
Having the live Handi Quilter educator is great, because I can ask Cheryl my questions and get a direct answer. I love Zoom. Cheryl lives in Ontario, Canada, and I can see her sewing room, and she can see mine. Magic!
The best way to get to know the machine and the software is to use ALL of the resources. I started out by reading the materials, then watching the videos in between my sessions with Cheryl. She would cover her lessons and my questions, but the real learning came when I actually tried things out under her supervision and on my own. She stood by while I threaded the machine by myself for the first time and watched while I loaded my practice quilt onto the machine. But I’ve done my first stitching explorations on my own.
I first tried free motion quilting. The Getting Started guide suggested stitching cursive e’s and l’s for practice. That should be easy, right? But not for me. I did about five rows, right side up and upside down, and they look like chunky baseball bats. I tried to make them more slender, and more rounded at the top, but I just couldn’t. I see a lot of practice ahead of me.
Then I tried stippling. No. I have corners instead of curves. I think I’m moving too fast, too jerky. I think I have to go slower and concentrate on moving smoothly. Like I said, practice.
Then I tried the robotic sewing. There are lots of steps in setting things up on the tablet that holds the program. I watched some videos again and made step-by-step notes. Then when I tried it out, it wouldn’t work, so I watched the videos some more. There are so many icons, so many steps, that I missed small parts of the processes when the demonstrator talked fast or didn’t exactly stop and show which button she was pressing on the video. But after about three hours of studying and attempting, I was able to make a feathered wreath.
Much better than what I can do by hand.
On another day I tried a continuous line pattern, a connecting spiral, but I couldn’t find the video that shows how to repeat a design a few times (as opposed to setting up the whole quilt to be done), so I tried to figure it out myself. I decided to set up a rectangular area that I would quilt with two connected spirals. I thought I sized it perfectly. I lined the first up with the left hand side of my rectangle, and when it was done, I moved the design to the right hand side of my area. As it turned out, I did NOT size it up perfectly, and the second spiral overlapped the first. Oh well. I learned one way that doesn’t work. I asked Cheryl to explain the process to me, and I think I understand better now.
Clearly I need a lot more practice before I attempt to quilt an actual quilt that I want to use or give away.
Loading the quilt on the smaller frame is harder than I expected. It’s hard to get it straight. On the loft frame, you just ratchet it, and it rolls smoothly. With the smaller frame that I have, you remove the clamps, reposition the quilt, and reattach the clamps.
Maybe I’m too old to do this. This machine is expensive—what if I never get good enough to use it properly? Greg really encouraged me to go for it—he even gave me most of the money for it.
They say that one of the best ways to exercise your brain is to learn new things. Hopefully I’ll be continuing to exercise my brain in the coming years and actually get good at quilting.
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I finally finished a baptism quilt (we Lutherans baptize infants) that I think I may have started at the beginning of the pandemic. There are several reasons why it took me so long. In between, I made two lap quilts for my sister-in-law and I pieced a bed quilt for my son. Also, I disappointed myself with my fabric choices for the sheep block (but not enough to remake it). The pastel pink gingham I picked for the sheep’s body doesn’t show up well against the white background. (That block, by the way, is from Lori Holt’s Farm Girl Vintage book. It’s a favorite of our quilt ministry.)
I thought this might be the time to learn free motion quilting–I could quilt fleecy-looking swirls over the pink gingham with brighter pink thread. Problem solved.
Sigh. Some people have a long learning curve. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I’d read that it was a good idea to try out your design with paper and pencil before trying to stitch it. So I spent several practice sessions drawing swirls. I was dissatisfied with my results.
Maybe I could try stippling.
My stippling drawing was okay, so I started practicing stitching with scraps of fabric and batting. I don’t have a long-arm, but I know lots of people do beautiful quilting on ordinary sewing machines. I have a 30-year-old Pfaff Tiptronic 6270, which has been excellent for piecing and for in-the-ditch quilting. I am very good at straight stitching. I can sew garments that involve curves.
Stippling is another matter. You need to be able to think ahead, to visualize how you want your stitches to meander. I don’t have that skill set. I spent a couple months’ worth of Saturday mornings working on my stippling. I can’t tell you how many bobbins I wound–they get used up really fast when you do free-motion practice. I never got the hang of it. I think part of the problem was I’d slow down, and then my stitches would get too large. I eventually used up all the fabric I didn’t mind wasting and all my scraps of batting. Did I really want to cut into my good yardage? No. But I read that felt squares are good for FMQ practice. Folded in half, they have bulk similar to cotton plus batting.
I decided to try random loop-de-loops. Maybe they wouldn’t be so hard to control. Alternate looping to the right and to the left. I practiced for a while, determined to make it work.
And then my sewing machine threw a hissy fit. It made my top thread form a massive tangle on the underside of my fabric.
Now I know how to handle this. Usually, underside tangles are caused by one of four things: a bent needle; dust, lint, or thread fragments in the bobbin carriage; inferior thread; or lack of lubrication. So, I removed the throat plate and cleaned and oiled the machine and changed out the needle and the thread. Multiple times. But as soon as I started practicing my quilting again, tangleation! Maybe my machine needed repair. But I just had it serviced in January! It should be good for a couple of years.
Maybe it’s time to retire my Pfaff. 30 years is a good life. For the heck of it, I did some straight sewing. No problem.
I tried FMQ again, problem again!
I gave up on the idea of quilting that sheep and just left the outline quilted. Then I bound it, buried my thread ends, and pronounced the quilt done.
Now it’s your turn–help! I’ve decided that if I want to take my quilting to the next level, I need a long arm. I’m going to research what’s out there–and I have no idea how to begin. I know I don’t have room for one of those huge frames with the computerized machine. So, quilters, what machines do you use? What do you like about them? What would your dream machine be, and why?
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I discovered Doreen Auger about five years ago when I stumbled on her blog, Treadlemusic. She makes quilts and takes simple vintage household items and turns them into masterpieces with her intricate free-motion quilting.
Free-motion quilting means lowering the feed dogs on your sewing machine so you can manipulate the layers of fabric and batting to accommodate swirling and spiraling and stippling patterns with your stitches. It’s something like riding a bicycle without training wheels—you have a great amount of freedom, but it requires some skill to get positive results. I’m thankful that Doreen agreed to share her expertise and her warm personality with ARHtistic License.
ARHtistic License: When did you start quilting? How did you learn?
Doreen Auger: I taught myself. Mom wanted to teach me but, being the tom-boy, I wasn’t going to go there! BUT, she had the last word….by giving me/us a sewing machine for a wedding gift. Our 2 boys came along and needed clothes and we had a very tight budget! Enter my determination to learn. That was 53+ years ago!!
AL: You pick up vintage pieces (dresser scarves, pillowcases, quilt tops, etc.) and embellish them with your gorgeous free-motion quilting (also known by the acronym FMQ). What are you on the lookout for, and where do you find them? How do you decide what designs to do?
DA: Those pieces really find me! Friends discover they have these pieces and don’t know what to do with them and I find myself the honored recipient of them. 50’s tablecloths are wonderful to “upcycle” and I use them every day. My quilting ideas come from the piece itself after viewing it while pin-basting and……many ideas come in my dreams! LOL! When I’m really a blank, I doodle in my sketchbook and check out Pinterest.
AL: Do you belong to a guild or a quilting group?
DA: I belong to several quilt groups—each with different personalities. One is a “longarmers” group (I’m the only “sit-down” quilter!), one is needlework of all types and the other 2 are quilting—both hand and machine BUT the last 3 groups are primarily “piecers” not “quilters”. I only piece of necessity to get to the part of the process I love!
AL: Do you teach FMQ? Tell me about that. Do you teach certain designs, or how do you structure your lessons? Do you teach at a store, or at events?
DA: I do teach and do trunk shows. The most interest is in the vintage linen quilting. Most have never thought of even doing it. The teaching topics range from very basic beginner to FEATHERS….of course! Everyone wants to do feathers, hmmmm???
AL: Would you hazard a guess as to how many quilts you’ve made or how many quilts you’ve quilted for others?
DA: I, sadly, am not one to keep track of such things and I do regret it now. Most are/have been given/donated. An example would be, while in Texas last winter (Dec. through the end of April), I made and donated 7 bed-sized quilts. In the course of a year I do, maybe, a dozen large quilts and fill in with the small/medium pieces that utilize the linens.
AL: What kind of quilts do you most like to make?
DA: I like any type….retro, modern, traditional whatever, as long as I can quilt them, I’m happy. The more modern style is a bit of a challenge for me and I enjoy the process of “thinking outside the box”.
AL: What is your favorite sewing machine for free-motion quilting, and why?
DA: I have 2 favorites: a Juki 2010Q (domestic with a 9” harp) straight stitch, industrial for home use (meaning it has an internal motor rather than a table mounted type separate from the machine itself) and my Handi Quilter Sweet Sixteen, sit-down mid-arm. LUV them both. The Juki is an incredible piecing machine with a thread cutter and knee operated pressure foot lifter AND awesome for FMQ! I, also, have a Juki in our Winter Texas place.
AL: Tell us about your fabric stash.
DA:Wow! Now, that’s a topic!!! Totes…almost too many to count! Some are sorted by color, by seasonal (winter/Christmas), batiks, special interest (woodworking, hunting, RV) AND, of course, linens!
AL: What are your favorite colors?
DA: Purple……surprise! Just kidding a bit. I love green in all of its varieties of hues and tints. Although I like pastels, it’s the “cozy” feel that most often draws my eye. Reproduction/Americana fabrics seem to have a prominent place in my stash.
AL: What is a project you’re looking forward to starting?
DA: Always the next one. While I’m finishing the binding or label on the current endeavor, my mind is straying to the “what’s next”. Right now, it’s a Christmas gift for our son/DIL. A king size Mariner’s Compass piecing that I did using a Dream Big flower panel for one of the components. This one is proving to be a creative challenge as it’s going to have a more contemporary feel (the outer border is floral so, maybe, a feather or two will appear!!!!).
AL: What advice would you give to a quilter who is timidly considering free-motion quilting? How would you suggest he or she begin?
DA: I am self-taught in this art, also. Check out some online quilters’ blogs and start looking to see just what it is that intrigues you. Figure out ‘why’ you want to learn this part of the process. Is it because you want the finish to be completely done by you? Is there a creative part of you looking for an outlet? Advice: be realistic when it comes to your personal learning curve. Do NOT be hard on yourself……we all learn differently and at different paces. Make sure your machine is in tip top working order (clean, etc.) and you know how to set it up properly for FMQ. Do you have a FMQ foot? Drop the feed dogs-or not? Get a cheap sketchpad and doodle..lots! Practice 15 minutes a day….every day (rather than big chunks of time sporadically). Make sure your chair is at proper height for your machine (so your elbows are at 90 degree angle when resting on the table. You must have some type of an extension table…..just the free-arm is too narrow of an area. It’s a new journey….even if you have sewn for years….this is different. Your final skill level achieved may not be the same as anyone else…..we are all different. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
AL: Do you have any funny quilting stories?
DA: Not really “funny” but, when teaching my workshops (beginner or not), it’s quite fascinating to observe how intensely focused the gals are when stitching and trying to get them to take a break…..well, that’s almost impossible!!!! They’re “sweating bullets” but would prefer to work right through a lunch break!!! I love it!!! And, always, they have a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.
AL: You spend the winters in Texas and the warmer months in Minnesota. Where did you grow up? What are the joys and challenges of splitting the year between two different states?
DA: The St. Paul Metro area is where I grew up but we lived in both Minneapolis and St. Paul before buying our little hobby farm in extreme southeast Minnesota, outside the very small town of Houston. It’s been 46 years since that move! Wintering in Texas, for the past 6 years, has been interesting. DH got weary of the snow/cold and we both agreed that Arizona (where all our friends go) and Florida didn’t hold an attraction. Deep South Texas has the beaches (South Padre Island) and the warmth we wanted with the added perk of extremely reasonable living costs (cheapest in the nation!). Now that I have my little sewing nest set up comfortably, it is amazing. There are few quilt shops in the immediate vicinity so I try to plan just how much (and what) of my stash I’ll need to bring down there………trying to remember the limitations imposed by the interior dimensions of our car!!
From a couple of years ago: Doreen with her husband, Tom. Doreen says, “My bike is a ’96 HD Heritage Softail Classic. Tom’s is an HD Road King.”
AL: How long have you been riding a motorcycle? And why?
DA: My love of biking goes back to when I was a late teen. No personal experience but just totally enamored of them. When I met Tom, our 2nd date was a several hundred mile ride to southern MN…mostly spent in rain!!! Over the years, living on our farmlet, bikes & go-carts were the recreation of choice for our boys, Tom and I. Dirt bikes were easy to maneuver and learn on. We began going to the Sturgis Rally, back in the early 90s, with our club. I realized that, while I was riding behind Tom, if something were to happen and I needed “wheels”, I would need to get my own license. Just before my 50th birthday (in April), I signed up for a motorcycle safety course and got the required license and have been loving it ever since. Now, at 74, I find myself at the quilting more than the biking, though. I still have my Harley.
AL: Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or your quilts?
DA: Quilting has changed over the years, as has all art forms. It becomes what the current generation brings to it. The process adapts and is filtered through present life experiences and comes out unique to the present. I consider myself a textile artist who specializes in the FMQ portion of the quilting process. It is a creative outlet that I’m DRIVEN to do and is a significant part of who I am. My creative expression, also, takes form in my piano music. My monthly piano moments at a local hospital is a great blessing to me and, I pray, to those visiting the clinic. Sharing my baking/cooking with family and others makes up another facet. All that I’ve shared has been given to me as an amazing gift from my Lord and Savior for the purpose of sharing with others. Its value is only truly realized when these fabric pieces or music or kitchen sharings, etc., are taken to heart by another in need of a day-brightener.
All photographs in this article are the property of Doreen Auger. Used with permission.
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