Thursday, November 1, 2012

Explorations with batting and stitch lengths

I have been quilting a quilt for my daughter.  I warm up on the large practice quilt before I switch over to hers.  I have also been digging through Diane Gaudynski’s blog posts.  She is another quilter (besides Leah Day and Ann Fahl) I admire and who quilts beautifully on a domestic machine.  She doesn’t write many posts, but there’s a lot of good info to glean from them.
She and others have extolled the virtues of wool batting, especially if you want certain sections of your pattern to pop without needing trapunto.  So I made two identical 10 inch square sandwiches, one filled with the cotton batting I usually use and the other with wool.  I practiced various ways to quilt feathers and then filled between them.  Yes, indeed there’s a huge difference.  Wool is expensive, but if it’s an art quilt or a very special quilt, I think it is worth it.  If you watch sales and collect coupons, it’s actually not too hard to get it at a more affordable price.
Cotton batting on the left and wool on the right.

Close up of the swatch using wool batting.

Another thing I have been grappling with is stitch length.  If hand stitching, smaller is better, like 20 stitches per inch.  So you would think that would also be a guideline for machine quilting.  Leah thinks it doesn’t matter, so long as it is even.  One source says 10 to 12 stitches per inch, and Diane uses as many as 15 to 20 stitches per inch.  She recommended taking a swatch of fabric and sewing lines at different lengths, so you could see what it would look like.
Sample of stitch lengths - stitches per inch are in ()

Obviously, if you are doing really fine, tight patterns, a smaller stitch is needed, but what about bigger quilts with more open, larger patterns?  After looking at some of mine, I found that I tend to hit about  8 to10 stitches per inch.  However, some of my swirls weren’t as sharp or smooth as they should be.  Some sections had much longer stitches than that. I know I probably need to aim for more like 12 to 15 stitches per inch.  That means slowing down my hands and maybe speeding the machine up a bit.  What I have noticed is that I accelerate my hands in the curves (like I do when I am skiing or driving) which makes those stitches very much longer.  So I need to maintain a consistent and slower, more relaxed speed in my hands.  I also noticed that I get ahead of the machine and then my needle tings. I probably am bending it a little, which is released when the needle leaves the fabric, thus the ting.
Today I worked on those things today: slightly shorter stitches and more consistent speed to get even stitches.  It felt better and the results showed it was.  I had almost no tinging.  Progress!


Leah Day said...

It's not so much that I don't think stitch length matters, Monica, it's that it's a bit obsessive to stitch straight lines, measure an inch and count all the stitches that fit! I also believe that setting a number on something just creates a bar to either meet perfectly or fail at, and really that's not the point. So long as your stitches look pretty to you, that's all that matters!


Moni said...

Leah - For us newbies, it is good to at least have a range of what is considered appropriate and then go from there. I was not criticizing you - that was the answer I got from you a long time ago - and I get it. I am now past the totally beginner stage and want to work on creating work that will meet standards, such as they are.

Jeane said...

Moni, that was a great sample comparison. I really want to use wool. Like you, I need to concentrate on my stitch sizes on curves, the only place I see them really show.

Karen Mills said...

I would think that wool batting would shrink more in the washing after the quilt was completed. Is that right? I'm working on a bed quilt for my daughter and will put bamboo batting inside. We chose bamboo because our family used to live in China, it's a quick growing, renewable resource and it's lighter. To start with, it's flatter, so the puffiness will probably be less. As for warmth ... who knows?

Moni said...

Wool batting has been treated so it shrinks less than most others when washed - anywhere from 1 to 3%

lefuntz said...

I stumbled onto your blog after I saw your rainbow star on pinterest and hoped to find a pdf. Instead I started reading, reading older posts, and finding many things in common. I recently retired from education after 35 years and though I loved my job I hate what has been happening for many of the same reasons you stated. I too had to replace my old but well loved sewing machine and after much hair pulling when I discovered how much had changed finally decided to buy the Janome 6600. Love it, love your blog, love Leah Day, yeah!!, and just wanted to say Hi!

Martha said...

Hi, Moni. Remember me from Ellen's recent class? Your practice sessions on free-motion quilting seem quite productive, and I can identify with some of the same problems (like speeding up going around curves). I was also happy to see your tip about cutting off the ends of the little rubber fingers. I sometimes pick up a 2" square of rubberized shelf material instead of wearing the gloves or rubber fingers. I enjoyed a trip to Houston Quilt Festival last week and posted a few pictures on my blog. Keep practicing and I will, too!