And in the Evening…

At some point mid-day, I am usually done in the studio. Either I’ve started early in the morning, and I’m ready for my afternoon coffee break, or I stop what I’m doing and go to the gym.

After that, its time to sit in my chair and indulge in some mindless stitching. Back in July, I told you about my “obsession” with making a kantha blanket. Most of the time I stitched on this, I was thinking about how it wasn’t a very good composition, and why was I spending so much time stitching on something that I wouldn’t even like when it was done. But my BF encouraged me, saying that the stitching would pull it all together.

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When I could see that an end was in sight, I stitched more consistently. It was very relaxing and enjoyable to work on. I used a very light weight cotton gauze for the “batting” and plain muslin for the backing. This made it very easy to stitch through all three layers.

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You can probably see–I had one main color of thread (I ordered five spools of the #8 perle cotton in that color) and then I added bits of other colors in the turquoise range, and some oranges, and one lime green. Whatever color I chose, I carried it all the way across the blanket.

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Here is the only place I changed the stitching direction, just for a bit of fun.

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You can see I used mostly prints, but I made a few of my cross cut squares, and a few with circles to add to the interest.

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Pretty much the whole time I worked on this, I was mad at myself for choosing muslin as the backing. How boring! But now that it is done, I like it the muslin back. I can see the stitching, I can see the “mistakes,” and I like that.

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When all the stitching was done, I chose one of the multi-color fabrics to use as a binding. I sewed the binding to the back, and hand-stitched it down to the front. And then the part I like the best–I washed it! After washing it (on delicate cycle, because I wasn’t sure about those long stitches,) it is so soft and cozy. I laid it out on my bed, to see it as a whole piece, and my BF was right–the stitching pulls all those colors and prints together. I really like it. Its nice to like a project when you have spent so much time on it 🙂

Momentum

A few weeks ago, I made a little “in the meantime” piece because I had “nothing” to work on in the evenings–no handwork.

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Since then I have embraced the kantha blanket, and have begun the long journey of repetitive stitching that I had planned for it.

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And then, I finally bit the bullet and started a new project that I had been mulling over since last December.

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Can you guess what it is? I am doing a quilt of “The Hallelujah Chorus.” It has long been one of my favorite pieces of music. When I lived in Texas, our church choir sang it, and we were required to memorize it. The words are magnificent, and have so much meaning to me. I had the idea when I went last December to a beautiful cathedral in downtown Sacramento for a performance of The Messiah. My little idea was that the quilt had to be extremely beautiful, mostly white, with perfect extensive quilting, and of course, the words would be preeminent, and of course beautiful calligraphy. Hmmm. See why I was afraid to start it?

A little thought came along–why don’t you do what you know you can do well? So I decided to use my own handwriting, and to make my circles with embroidery. I bought some silk-type fabric at Joann’s to practice on, and it turned out that I really liked this fabric, so I stuck with it.

I wanted the piece to be a bit larger than most of my embroidered works, so I came up with the idea of doing the circles and the words in separate panels, and then after all of them are embroidered, I will join them into one quilt top and add more quilting.

All I can say is, you just have to try. It very well could have been that these things would not have worked. Heck, they still might not work. But by trying, even if I fail, I have learned something new.

And now, I must leave you. I have a bit of stitching to do 🙂

The Journey

Recently I had lunch with an old friend (who creates AMAZING Pysanky eggs) and she told me about her recent trip to Spain, where she and her husband walked the 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago!! The Camino has been walked by thousands of Christian pilgrims for the past thousand years. Nowadays it is still walked by pilgrims from many faiths, and many times for reasons other than a faith journey. Whatever the reason, it is something that fascinates me. Committing to walking 500 miles, and then following through with that–well that is the kind of thing that inspires me.

My friend recommended two movies–Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago, a very well done documentary, and The Way, another excellent movie about the same thing. I watched both movies this past week, and was very moved by the stories of the people walking, and how they continued on in spite of pain and other difficulties. And how each person found special meaning through their walk and the camaraderie that they found along the way.

As I watched (and stitched) it reminded me of the quilting journey I am on. Many times it is a spiritual journey (nothing excites me more than stitching the beautiful words of scripture into a quilt.) Sometimes the journey I have chosen seems endless, and I wonder, “what was I thinking?” as I stitch. But like the pilgrims on their way to Santiago, I learn that the journey is what is important. I will learn many things as I stitch. Sometimes I learn that what I chose to do didn’t work so well. Sometimes there is a turn in the road, and I discover something completely new and unrelated to the current work. Always, there is value in putting hand to cloth and striving to create something beautiful.

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In the Meantime…

While I was working on making my kantha blanket top, I was without a hand stitching project. I found this little sketch in my notebook and thought it would be a fun embroidery project.

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I found an interesting dark fabric to use as the top, and made a sandwich. I decided to “draw” the outline with black perle cotton. In the past I have machine stitched outlines. Once I got into it, I enjoyed this process. If you’ll look close, you will see the outline I drew and the outline I embroidered are not exactly the same. I wasn’t embroidering to scale, and I ran out of room somewhere in the middle. No biggie.

My favorite part–choosing the embroidery threads! And, I found a little case I had gotten at the thrift store, and it is perfect for the threads and the entire project will fit in there.

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I chose a fairly limited palette of colors to work with, and am challenging myself to stick with just these colors.

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Stitching so far:

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Obsession

I don’t know where it came from, this obsession to make a “kantha blanket.” I have a little niggling thought that it might be because of answering the question so many times “what is kantha stitching?” and always being careful to explain that my stitching is “kantha inspired.”If I did a blanket, I would have something more “authentic” to show people.

So after my failure at the last scrappy quilt top, I set about making a more organized, partially planned, scrap quilt for the kantha blanket. Like I do for most projects, I chose a large variety of fabrics that I like, and then narrowed them down to fabrics that might work together. And set a few parameters for the piecing–Longish rectangles, 4 inches wide by about 7 or 10 inches long. I would insert a few squares with my “crosses” and my circles. And I went to town working on this quilt top.

In just a few days I finished it, and with the finish came a deep sense of despair. This “planned scrappy” quilt top was not much better than my really really scrappy top. What is wrong with me? I can’t even plan a simple scrappy quilt. Which then devolved into Nothing I’ve ever done is really any good at all. Oh, it was bad.

Fortunately for her, my best friend was not available for conversation that day. By the next day I had decided to follow my own advice, and “continue on.” She concurred. I’m not sure if covering this entire piece with stitching lines 1/4 inch apart will help. But it will be in the spirit of kantha–using what I have and making something useful of it.

In the meantime, I mentioned to my mom what I was doing, and she started asking a ton of questions about kantha. So I got out my big book of Kantha, and what do you know–what I am doing now is still not very kantha-like in the traditional sense. We’ll just call it a modern take on kantha 🙂

The sandwich is made, and I am happily stitching away on my kantha blanket.

I decided to not show you the entire piece. Any hint of sympathy or disapproval might send me into a downward spiral from which I might never recover :)

I decided to not show you the entire piece. Any hint of sympathy or disapproval might send me into a downward spiral from which I might never recover 🙂

Blocked!

Usually on Monday I am raring to get into the studio and start working. I had lots of things I could work on, and new ideas that were begging to get started. I just could not make myself start on any of them. Maybe its because I was feeling extra stiff–yes, we’ll blame it on that. I went to the gym and spent a good long time on the bike and in the pool.

Monday night I FINALLY finished stitching on this little piece–inspired by the cover art on the latest issue of Quilting Arts magazine and my planned trip to rug hooking camp. Stitching on wool seemed like the perfect travel project. But filling every square inch of this little piece with stitches took FOREVER. And what the heck was I going to do with it?

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Well….C., the same new friend from my SLO workshops who suggested the fabric to frame my little embroidered piece, took this wool embroidery and folded it and suggested making a needle-keeper (is that what they’re called?)

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So that’s what I did. Tuesday morning I had a plan. I decided to line it with a really pretty piece of dyed wool, and stitch those two pieces together with blanket stitch.

I didn’t want to sew the sides up, because I wanted to be able to lay it flat to see the design as a whole. Then I realized I wanted a pocket for my thimble, so there was the perfect scrap of fabric just laying on the cutting table, waiting for me.

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This was just the little jump start I needed. I spent the rest of the day in the studio, working on a project that I was quite enthused about… I’ll tell you more about that next time 🙂

The Trouble with Teaching

The trouble with teaching is that it takes a lot of brain power to prepare for it. At least that’s how it is for me. I can’t really think about starting a NEW. IMPORTANT. PROJECT. when I am thinking about teaching. All I can think about is “oh, I could share this,” or “wouldn’t that be great to have a sample of that to share.” And you can see, those are not bad thoughts. I just won’t be starting one of the big projects I have in my mind until after this teaching gig is done.

In the meantime, I wanted to have as many examples as possible to share with the class. I had a LOT of unfinished samples…ahem…have I mentioned I don’t like binding quilts?

In fact, I had five small pieces that needed to be finished. So one by one, I set out to get that done. I also didn’t have any handwork for my evenings, so finishing these substituted for that for a few days.

This is the “header” for the “what they said” series. It has a facing instead of a binding. This is my favorite method to face quilts now. 

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You’ve seen this before. Its not finished (I’m planning to bead it) but I wanted to take it to share with the class. So now it has a binding on it.

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And a binding on this little wonky piece, just to keep it contained. Oh, you’ll notice that I hand-stitched the binding to the front. Usually I machine sew my binding down. But I always say I think its weird that quilters do all of that beautiful hand-work on a binding, and hide it on the back.

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And this piece has been hanging around FOREVER, with unfinished edges. That was partly because I just didn’t know what to do with it. It was stitched almost to the very edge, and I didn’t want to cover up any stitching with a stupid old binding. I thought about zig-zagging the edge. And then it came to me–just do that by hand! It took quite a while. But I think it is the perfect edge for this little piece.

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Close-up. Hint: if you do this, it goes a lot quicker with #5 perle cotton 🙂

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And then I had this hexagon piece. I just didn’t know WHAT to do with it. I thought about mounting it on a board. I thought about putting it on top of another quilt (which is what I did.) But how to finish all those dang edges… I just didn’t want to fool with binding it. I was pretty sure it would not be my best work, trying to turn all those corners. So because I had “zig-zagged” the previous piece by hand, I thought, hey, that might work! I literally took 5 stitches, and said, no way am I going to go around this whole piece by hand. So then I decided to try zig-zagging by machine. I auditioned several green fabrics, and in the end, this beautiful piece won out. I placed the hexagon, which was already a complete quilt sandwich, on top of the piece, got it just where I wanted it, and pinned it carefully in place, on a flat surface. First, I straight stitched about 1/8″ from the edge, all around the piece. I thought zig zagging might distort it. Then I started zig-zagging. Three colors of thread, and three rounds of small zig zag later, it was firmly in place. Then I could cut out the back of the foundation fabric. Made a sandwich, and quilted it simply. It came out just the way I envisioned. Oh, and side-note. I thought I would just quilt it on my Janome, since I had a big quilt under the Juki. I had to stop three times in the first five minutes for stupid things, so I switched over to the Juki. Ahhhhh… much better 🙂

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Close-up:

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As I mentioned, I didn’t have any piece to work on in the evening. This was driving me nuts. I also have seen quite a few things lately that have little tiny pieces of fabric sewn together. I got this book. Her work fascinates me. So finally, after all these little quilts were finished, I decided one night to just make a sandwich out of some leftover muslin and batting that was laying around in the studio.I brought the sandwich, my bag of Cherrywood little scraps, and four or five “neutral” fabrics out to my comfy chair. I was somehow going to sew patches on top of this. As soon as I sat down, I knew I didn’t want to have muslin showing through on the front. So I set about hand piecing little bits of fabric together. Yesterday I got tired of hand-piecing, so I put the rest of it together by machine. And now I have a fun little piece to stitch on in the evening.

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So you can see, there are more good than bad things about teaching! I am looking forward to this assignment.

I’m Teaching!

Next month I will be doing an evening lecture and trunk show at the San Luis Obispo Quilters, on Monday, May 9. Tuesday, May 10, I will be doing a workshop on Kantha stitching, and Wednesday, May 11, will be a workshop on Improv Patching and Piecing. I am excited to have the opportunity to share the way I love to work with other quilters. If you are interested in attending any of these events, Click here to go to their website. If you scroll down to the bottom of the page, there is an email address.

Here is an example of the improve patching and piecing, with some kantha stitching in the circles:

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And a close-up of kantha stitching:

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I am always careful to clarify that my stitching is “kantha inspired.” I know what kantha stitching is, and I can tell you how to do it, but what I do is a little different than traditional kantha.

Look at this! I think I mentioned being intrigued by this artist’s needle weaving. Well, I tried it out. Its a bit painstaking, but it was also fun to do as a former weaver. Seeing how the colors interact when they are woven is what I like the best. This is just a small piece, maybe 9″X 11″.

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Close-up:

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Quilting, Piecing, Embroidery, and Rug Hooking

I mentioned to a friend recently that I had been quilting, piecing, embroidering, and rug hooking, and loving all of it. I kept thinking about this, and I realized that part of the reason was because I had “stations” set up for each activity, so that it was very easy to go from one activity to another. I never understood before why people felt the need to keep more than one sewing machine set up, but now I do. I am much more likely to work on a quilt when the machine is all set up and ready to go. (And I do know that having a big new “toy” is a good motivator.) When I started working on that big rug in January, I rearranged my living room so that I could keep the rug frame up all the time. If the rug frame is not up, rug hooking just doesn’t get done–sometimes for months. And of course, my Janome sewing machine is always up, and I am more likely to go and sew together a few pieces when I don’t have to move a big quilt out of the way. My “embroidery station” is the same as always–my big comfy chair where I sit every evening with a dog on my lap, watching TV shows on my computer, and working on whatever embroidery project is at hand.

It has been so fun to look through my UFO’s and find quilt tops I had completely forgotten about, and others that were within a few stitches of being completed!

I really like this quilt. I was influenced by a little postcard of a magnificent Japanese quilt. Mine is not magnificent, but it was very fun to piece, and I enjoyed practicing “straight enough” line quilting on the new machine.

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This was part of a series of quilts I did for a “Pay it Forward” challenge SIX YEARS ago! I had so much fun making those little quilts for three of my good blog friends. This fourth one was for me, but I used a beautiful upholstery weight fabric on the back, and it was not fun to hand quilt through, so 7/8th’s of the way through, I just stopped. Except for the border it was almost completely quilted. I decided to try hand quilting again. Took two stitches (literally) and knew I wouldn’t finish. So to the machine it went. I am as pleased as can be with the result. I’m thinking about keeping it, just because so many good memories are attached to that challenge project.

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This quilt was completely finished except for the central chicken block. I got a little obsessed about that, even wrote a blog about changing it out, and then it got put away and forgotten about. I finished quilting around the motifs in the central block, and it was finished. Several of these quilts have had enough backing fabric that I was able to do the binding by just bringing the backing around to the front. VERY convenient!

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Piecing. I think I showed you this one  before. I just about used all of the strips in that box, and so it is done. Since the strips were cut with a ruler, I’m not sure why it has ended up a bit wonky, except that I didn’t use my 1/4″ foot all the time. Anyway, I think I will put a wide border around it to finish it off and to square it up a bit.

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These stars are mostly my project for Sewing Day with my ladies. So fun to do, but a bit time consuming. All done with 2″ cut squares from my box of little two inch squares.

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I had the idea to make these simple blocks to offset the star blocks, which are so busy, but I didn’t like the way that looked. So they might become their own little project…

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Rug hooking! I LOVE love love working on this rug. There is even more of it done now, but this is the most recent picture. Like I said, I have a place all set up in the living room, so it is very easy to just sit and do a little bit of hooking, if that’s all I have time for.

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Close-up:

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And embroidery. I have almost finished the embroidered words on all 17 of the quilts in the “what they said” series. I loved working on these, and trying to convey the thoughts and feelings behind the words through the way I embroidered the words. Now to quilt and finish them. I will show them all to you at one time, as that is the way I think they will have the most impact. Here is the one I chose to use as the “header.” Just the straight line kantha stitching over the whole piece.

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And that is how life is going in the studio right now. I wake up every morning excited about what I am going to work on that day.

A Quick Note

I am back from the Houston International Quilt Festival, and leaving tomorrow for a workshop with Maria Shell. Houston was absolutely fabulous in so many ways. Of course, in Texas everything is bigger, right? Well, the biggest surprise to me was the way the quilts were displayed. There was so much room between the aisles, and even more room between the separate displays. Not once did I feel that I was “fighting the crowds” to see the quilts. Even the big winners were never that crowded.

I got to attend the show with my best friend, Robin Fouquette the absolutely fabulous long arm quilter. Robin lives in Oregon, and so we don’t get to see each other quite as often as we’d like. This picture also gives you a little idea of how well spaced the displays are.

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Sometimes they have a lot of instructions about which quilts you can photograph, and how or when you are supposed to share those with others. So I just picked out a couple that I thought would be okay. I have a definite love for Japanese quilts. Their workmanship and composition and use of color–everything about them just inspires me. This quilt was made by a mother for her daughter, and when I went by one time, she was there with her daughter. I just caught this candid moment, and I love it.

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Here are a few details of her quilt–I think all hand done, if you can imagine.

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Here is the other quilt I will share, because as you see, the quilt maker has done a good job of giving himself photographic credit. Luke Haynes works with used clothing as his raw material. Its just astounding what he can do with it. Oh, and in this picture you can see that they used clear plastic tape to block off the quilts. I loved that, as it allowed you to get a better view of the quilt as a whole composition.

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close-up.

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Saturday night there was a bit of excitement at our hotel. We got on the shuttle to come home from the show and dinner out, and the driver announced that he would not be able to take us back to our hotel. Evidently there was a fire. Yikes! Fortunately, he was able to get us within a block of it, and by then most of the excitement had cleared up and they allowed us to come into the hotel. Some of the younger firemen were posing with quilters and other guests, but I enjoyed this group, who were just looking on and having some coffee. The fire was actually outside the hotel, in a manhole or something.

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Oh, so bad blogger that I am, I didn’t take pictures of any of the people I was able to meet up with. Thursday night Robin and I were able to have dinner with Ricky Tims and his partner Justin Shultz. So fun to have a little time to catch up with Ricky (we were friends over 30 years ago, when we used to show dogs together!! so weird to say “thirty years ago…”) I got to chat with Jenny Lyons, my SAQA friend. And I briefly met Maria Shell when she gave a free demo at the “Meet the Teachers” area of the show. This was a great feature–they had ongoing 30 minute demonstrations by various teachers. All were well done, and it was also a nice place to sit and take a short break 🙂 Last but not least, I finally met up with long time friend and blogger, Kris from Australia! That is the fun of blogging–you meet people online that have similar interests, and then once in a while you are privileged to meet them in person. Kris had a beautiful quilt displayed at the show, and she won second prize in its category!!

On Sunday another blog friend picked me up and we got to spend a couple of days visiting–doing what we like best: talking, eating, stitching, and watching favorite TV shows. It was an absolutely great way to end this trip, with a day of relaxing before the long journey home. Shelley and I met because of our mutual interest in healthy living, and because we both have a Texas/California connection, we have been able to get together fairly often. One time we met at a frozen yogurt shop and I taught her to knit. One time she took me to her local quilt and knitting shops, and we had oh so much fun shopping, and then sewing together afterwards. This time I made a little quilt sandwich for Shelly to try the embroidery with perle cotton thread.

Shelley did some outstanding embroidery!

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She decided she wanted to make a sun in one of the circles. She did say that she might not be doing too much of that satin stitch in the future. But I love the way it looks!

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Before I left, I asked her to pick out some colors of perle cotton that she liked, and I picked out a few more to fill in light and dark values, and left her a little “kit” to continue working on her piece.

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While I was at PIQF and Houston, I was trying out a lot of long arm quilting machines. I have been thinking seriously about whether or not I “needed” one of these. At one booth at PIQF, they were using a frame under the sit-down long arm. I loved it, especially because of the knobs on the side. It seemed to keep my hands in a more ergonomically correct position. When I got home from PIQF, I investigated, and found out that this hoop/frame was made by Martelli. And then I realized that I could use it with my Janome sewing machine for free motion quilting. So when I went to Houston, I was on the lookout for this product, and with BF Robin’s approval, I bought a set (an 8″ and 11″ hoop.) When I got home, one of the very first things I did was to pull this out of my suitcase and give it a try. A very nice product, and one I think I will really use frequently.

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Oh, so as long as we’re talking long arms, I’ll tell you what I’m thinking. I had tried just about every brand of sit-down long arm out there. I did not like them, and so I was definitely investigating traditional frame long arm machines. On Robin’s recommendation, I tried the Juki, and I LOVE that machine. I spent a lot of time at the Juki booth in Houston, talking to the reps and the educators about the machine and how it works. On the last day, when we were both getting a little tired, I said I’d like to go back to the Juki booth one more time. And when we walked over, I said, “I didn’t even try their sit down machine. Well…..!!! I sat down, gave it a try, and suddenly there were angels singing in the convention center. I LOVED it!! In addition to loving how it sewed, there were a lot of other factors that made it “perfect” for me. For one thing, it requires way less space than the frame machine. I like the way my studio is set up, and if I did get a frame, I would have to rearrange the whole studio, and it would be pretty crowded. In addition, I have knee and back problems, so even if I did get the frame, I would be looking for a stool that would work with it. And lastly, no learning curve. As much fun as it is to watch other people using their long arm, it is a different quilting motion, and there would be some time before I would be able to quilt as well as I do on my current machine. Oh, and if I did ever want a frame long arm, this machine could be easily converted to the frame type.

I came very close to buying the machine that day, but I am going to wait. I like to think about big decisions. And that is the end of my Houston report! My bin is packed with solid fabrics, and I am ready to leave for my workshop with Maria, “Making Prints Out of Solids.”