Slow down: Speed can spoil quilter’s journey
Never compromise quality for speed.
It’s a mantra I struggle with when it comes to quilting.
Knowing I’ll never accomplish all the fabric projects — large, small and in between — that I’ve started, seen in magazines or intend to make with already purchased patterns and materials, I feel pressured and sometimes cut corners when I should know better.
Later, I scold myself for such impatience. I’m not striving for perfection necessarily, but with a bit more attention to detail, I might be happier with my results.
When I heard quilt instructor Sue Nickels reiterate that “slow down” advice at a recent lecture in Grand Junction, the words echoed in my gray matter.
Nickels, of Ann Arbor, Mich., teaches nationally and internationally. In collaboration with her like-minded sister, Pat Holly, and because of their tandem talents, the pair have several prize-winning quilts to their credit.
Two of their quilts, both best-of-show winners with the American Quilters’ Society, are in the permanent collection at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Ky.
“We work well together,” Nickels says, “because we have the same standards of workmanship.”
Holly, who also lives in Ann Arbor, does much of the machine piecing on their quilts, while Nickels specializes in quilting them on her Bernina home sewing machine.
Both enjoy appliqué, particularly floral designs. Together, they published a book titled “Stitched Raw Edge Appliqué.”
This may sound like an oxymoron: How can the edges be stitched if they’re raw?
A small amount of fusible adhesive is used to seal the edge of each piece, yet leaves the majority of the block soft and the overall quilt pliable, Nickels explains.
Machine blanket stitching over that secures the project with an attractive finish.
As for the quilting, Nickels taught herself years ago from Harriet Hargrave’s book titled “Heirloom Machine Quilting” and since has mastered the technique.
She’s now working on another book about “Whole Cloth Feathers,” how she designs them and executes these beautiful, swirling motifs. It should be available in 2013.
Some of her most elaborate quilting can be seen on the sisters’ cooperative quilt, “Tea at Tenby,” a 2009 best-of-show winner at the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, England. It also picked up a first place in group category and the visitors’ choice award at that event.
Let it also be said that Nickels and Holly pay utmost attention to detail. Nowhere is that more evident than in their earlier winners, “The Beatles Quilt” (1998) and “The Space Quilt” (2003).
Mimicking an 1800’s folk art style, they represented all of the Fab Four’s albums and interpreted their many song lyrics in such blocks as “Yellow Submarine,” “The Octopus’ Garden” and “Penny Lane.” Because Holly and Nickels grew up during that era, the quilt preserves their collective memories and those of thousands of other fans.
“The Space Quilt” was a tribute to their father, a retired Air Force pilot, and the women depicted NASA and the space program.
Inside a large dogtooth border, Nickels stitched, in free-motion writing, all of the individual missions, the dates and the astronauts who flew in them. It’s a true history lesson, Nickels says.
As she spoke to the Colorado West Quilters Guild, Nickels shared many of her machine quilting tips and tricks.
■ Use sharp needles. She prefers Schmetz Microtec Sharp needles in different sizes, depending on how fine or heavy her choice of thread.
■ Choose your thread carefully. The correct one can solve many sewing problems. She uses cotton thread and matches it to her fabric color “because I like the way it looks.” Nickels also recommends Superior Threads.
■ Don’t be afraid to adjust the top tension on your sewing machine.
■ Large quilts can be quilted on your home machine. Nickels works on hers in quadrants, using rubber fingertips cut from dishwashing gloves, two on each hand, to grip the layers.
■ Maintain a consistent stitch length. If you notice tiny stitches on your quilt, you are sewing too fast. Stitches too large? You may need to pick up the pace.
■ Don’t move your hands. Instead, move your quilt under the needle.
■ Use a light touch. Heavy-handed jerky motions will give you poor results.
■ Practice, practice, practice. After 100 hours of practice, the technique should be ingrained.
■ But most important, Nickels says, is slow down “and you’ll enjoy the process more.”
Those were words I needed to hear. Thanks for reminding me, Sue. Now it’s time to set my personal cruise control and stay the course.