October 18, 2017

Three Fairies (Panel Quilt) - DONE!

I really enjoy doing quilts from panels.  I found this one online a couple of years ago:

Here's the coordinating fabrics (from the same online source):

 I already had this orchid print, and the colours will work well as backing fabric.  I definitely wanted a "busy" backing fabric because I planned to do free-motion quilting on this project, outlining the fairies, butterflies and flowers in the panel.

It actually took me about 2 years to get the courage up to do this one, but once I got started - it was such a FUN project!

Here it is finished:
And here's the backing
On the center (the panel) I opted to stitch around the elements of the image, the fairies, butterflies, leaves and flowers.  Not wanting the quilting to be too busy, I just outlined some of the elements of the panel, leaving a little more blank space than usual.

In the image below, you can see I've outlined the leaves, butterfly, and flowers on the left.
And on the image below you can see I traced around the fingers of the fairy and around the butterfly.
Click any picture on this post to see a larger image
Here's a closeup of the backing.  You can somewhat make out the pattern of stitching, but because the fabric of the backing is so bold and "busy", it pretty much masks out the stitching - exactly what I wanted.
And I got just a little braver - on the quilt top, there are 6 blocks of pink fabric which are more-or-less plain.  I decided to try free-motion stitching a dragonfly in each of those.  They turned out pretty well!  Here's one of them:


I can't wait to do another free-motion panel quilt.  This one was terrific fun!

October 14, 2017

Comparing the Bernina and Handi Quilter Longarms

Very few people have the opportunity to work with more than one brand of longarm - but that's exactly what I've got with my two machines.  I've finished my first two projects on "Bernie", and I'm learning a lot, and am finding that are good (and less so) about Bernina and HQ.

Time to report what I've learned.

Price

The price of a basic Handi Quilter (machine and frame) is very similar to Bernina of the same size, but when you get past the basics and want accessories, the prices start popping at you.  For example, HQ's pantograph kit runs about $200 (AUD) - whereas Bernina's kit is $1,400.  Ouch.

One thing that puzzles me is that both machines use a standard "M" class bobbin.  It doesn't take long before you realize you want to have more than just a couple of these on hand.  HQ's bobbins sell for $5.00 each.  Bernina's are $8.00.  What's the difference?  Bernina's bobbins are read and have the company name printed on them.  Is that worth an extra $3.00?  Uh... no...

The Frame

  • The HQ frame is actually in 3 segments and you can install it with one, two, or all 3 segments in place.  This is great for me because the room I have mine in won't accommodate a 12 foot frame, but an 8 foot frame fits in nicely.  Bernina has different frame sizes available, but they don't have a frame with an adjustable width (yet).
  • The HQ frame weighs a TON.  The Bernina frame, on the other hand, is amazingly lightweight.  It's so light that I can roll the machine around in my room (I have casters on the frame to allow this) and there are no marks on my hardwood floor.  

Accessories

Both offer things like the pantograph kit, micro-handles, echo feet, ruler kits and so on.  However...
  • Pantograph kit - I've already mentioned the astonishing difference in price - but there's more.  The way the stylus for pattern boards is set up is quite different between the 2 systems.  On HQ, the stylus attachment is set up so that you can adjust the position of the stylus after advancing the quilt.  This makes it easy to keep the next row the right distance from the previous row.  With Bernina, you have to adjust the quilt - which is more demanding, fiddly and prone to alignment errors.  Perhaps there's some kind of "trick" to this on the Bernina that I just don't know about.  At the moment, however, I'm finding it very difficult to align correctly after advancing the quilt.
  • The styluses are quite different.  The Bernina stylus is metal and sits very firmly in the holder - nice!  The HQ stylus is plastic and has a bit of "wiggle" to it - which creates awkward irregularities in the stitching if you aren't careful.
  • A "ruler base" is available for both machines.  The Bernina ruler base is much easier to put on and take off because of it's design.  The HQ is a bit problematic because you have to bend the lucite base in order to slide it into position; I can't help but wonder if the base will become brittle over time and eventually snap in half when I'm trying to get it on or off the machine.  Have a look at videos from each manufacturer on how to install the bases and you'll see exactly what I mean:    BERNINA TUTORIAL         HQ TUTORIAL
  • Echo feet - Bernina offers only one size of echo foot, where Handi Quilter offers a set with 3 different size feet.  
  • Bernina offers a hydraulic lift to raise and lower the frame.  This is a fantastic accessory, although rather expensive ($5,000).  HQ doesn't offer a similar accessory.
  • Bobbin Winding - On the Bernina this is a breeze - the winding mechanism is on the side of the machine and you can wind bobbins while you are quilting (you don't have to stop the machine).  It's quick, quiet, and easy to work with.  HQ has a separate bobbin winder - which is clunky, loud, and temperamental.  
  • Testing bobbin tension - Bernina offers a bobbin tension gauge - which tells you exactly how much tension is on the bobbin (very small device, easy to use).  HQ doesn't have this.  Instead their owners manual gives instructions for testing bobbin tension by simply loading the bobbin into the bobbin case and pulling on the thread.  It's early days, yet, so I'm not sure if the gauge is really worth the extra money.  I've had issues with tension at times with the HQ over the 3+ years I've had it, and it's possible that a bobbin tension gauge might have helped me resolve them faster.  Time will tell.
  • Bernina offers casters for the frame (HQ does not).  These are simply essential for me because the room I have my machine in is small enough that I need to be able to shift the machine around from time to time.  Casters make that easy.  However, I will mention that my dealer told me that casters aren't compatible with their Q-Matic computerized automated quilting system.

Working With The Machine

  • The manual "needle up/down" wheel is on the back of the HQ machine and on the right side on the front of the Bernina.  It's much better up front.  When you have to re-thread the needle or replace the bobbin, you want to be able to position the needle immediately over the line of stitching - so having that nob within reach on the front makes all the difference in the world!  You can lower the needle (as you would on an ordinary sewing machine) and know exactly where the needle will be going.
  • The Bernina has an automatic needle threader.  The HQ doesn't - which puzzles me to no end.  
  • Both machines have a facility to estimate the remaining thread on the bobbin and alert you when it's getting low.  In my early days with the HQ machine I found it too confusing/fiddly to mess with and so never used it.  The Bernina estimator is much easier to use, but I don't really use it much, as having the bobbin run out of thread doesn't really cause me a lot of headaches.  I think if I had purchased the computer automated quilting upgrade it would be more important to me.
  • Both machines have a "precision" stitch mode (on Bernina it's called "BSR2").  With this mode, the idea is that the machine stitches when you move it; when you stop moving the machine, the stitching stops.  It works that way with HQ; you press the "on" button and the machine waits for you to move it before it starts stitching.  But with the Bernina, the machine takes a couple of "startup" stitches even before you move the machine.  When you stop, the Bernina takes a couple extra "tie off" stitches.  The HQ doesn't.  You can't turn off those extra stitches on the Bernina, all you can do is change the number of extra stitches it takes.  I don't necessarily want those extra stitches, so I make sure I start moving the machine immediately when turn on B2 mode, and when I want to stop, I turn it off a couple of stitches before I stop moving the machine.
  • Changing feet on the Bernina is a lot easier - there's just a little lever on the back holding the foot in position; you just flip it and the foot comes off.  With HQ you have to remove a screw (and hope you don't drop it in the process).
  • Oiling HQ is faster than the Bernina because you just have to reach down and drop the oil into the front of the bobbin mechanism.  But the spot where you put the oil is hard to see into, just a little awkward.  With the Bernina, you have to remove the foot and then the needle plate, which seems like more work at first, but when you do that you get a really good look at the bobbin mechanism and it's easier to spot lint you might not have brushed away.
  • My HQ came with a little bottle of machine oil.  I don't know if this is actually an HQ bottle or just one the dealer included.  The bottle has a long metal "straw" coming out of it with a little screw-on cap.  It's fiddly, gets oil all over whatever it touches, and not easy to just get that one little drop.  Bernina has a GREAT oil pen that stays clean and delivers just what you want exactly where you want it - 1000 times easier to use.  You can buy one for under $8.00.

    Have a look:

  • Both machines have a bit of vibration when they are in use, but the Bernina is much, much smoother.  It makes a big difference when you are doing fine work.
  • The flat power/control cables on the back and bottom of the HQ sometimes get pushed up against the cart wheels, causing a sudden jerk/dragging motion that is very annoying.  I haven't experienced this with the Bernina, at least not yet.
  • Leader cloths.  OK.  This may be a bit picky, but I find the HQ leader cloths easier to work with because they aren't as thick/stiff as Bernina's.  Pinning the quilt to them is much easier on the HQ.
  • Changing needles is a bit fiddly with the HQ because the needles it uses are round.  It's too easy to have the needle twisted to one side or the other instead of perfectly in position.  With Bernina, the needles have a flat edge on one side, so you actually can't put them in crooked.
The final thing to say is that the Bernina feels "faster" than the HQ.  This is odd, because the advertised max speed for Bernie is 2,200 spm (stitches per minute) where the HQ is advertised at 2,600 spm.  But I've set off the speed alarm on Bernie several times, and I don't remember ever doing that on the HQ (hm... now that I think about it... I'm not sure there even IS a speed alarm).

October 11, 2017

Quilt 15: Wiliam Morris Layer Cake - DONE!

Quilt 15...?  How can I just be finishing quilt 15 when I posted about quilt 94 only a week ago?!?

Well..  I pieced the top back in early 2013 - but after the top was done I realized some of the blocks weren't aligned perfectly.  I thought about pulling it apart and redoing the blocks, but, well...  ...the amount of work involved in that was way, WAY more than I wanted to get into.  That, plus the fact is that when the top is laying on a bed, you just don't easily see the error (I didn't spot it until I started sandwiching it).  So I went ahead pinned the "sandwich" - but just couldn't bring myself to spend the time required to hand-quilt something that large, knowing the flaw was there.  So it sat in a huge basket in the lounge room gathering dust.

But now....!  I have a longarm capable of mounting a king-size spread on - and as much as I'm loving "Bernie" - learning to work with her is fairly challenging (translation: I'm making a lot of mistakes...), so having a large project that could be a "throw away" if it turns out badly worked out well.  Fortunately, my backing and batting were a good 5" wider than the top, so it was suitable for mounting on the longarm.  So I did just that and off I went.

And here it is:
Queen size bedspread - quilted on the longarm ("Simply Stippling" groovy boards) - polyester batting.
Although this was my second project quilted on Bernie, there were some firsts, issues to work through and lessons learned:
  1. First queen-size quilt. 
    Lesson learned here was that, with a quilt this large, I don't want to use pieced backing.  The backing on this quilt was in 3 panels - and it wasn't perfectly flat when I rolled it on the frame!  Instead I found that one of the panels bowed slighting- EEEK!  You'd never notice that if you're hand-quilting, but on the longarm it took a good bit of fiddling to get the bowing worked out (I rolled it back and forth on the bars, finding that worked out most of the bowing).  From here out, I plan to purchase extra wide fabric for backing larger quilts from now on so piecing isn't needed.
  2. First time using groovy boards on Bernie. 
    There were a several things to work out here. 

    First of all, when I bought my groovy boards, I got 3 of each pattern so I can quilt up to 6 feet across without having to stop and move the boards.  The king-sized spread is 8 feed wide, so I had to pick up one board and move it from one end to the other.  That was more than a bit of a pain, and I'm thinking about getting a 4th board for the patterns I have. 

    Second, the edge of the surface where you lay your pantographs or groovy boards on the Bernina dips slightly downward on the left side of the frame.  That causes the groovy boards to slide under the edge of the frame instead of resting snug against it.  The result is that the boards on that end tend to slide a little easier, and get out of alignment with the ones on the right.  I use painter's tape to hold the board in position, but even so, it's too easy for them to shift. 

    Third - with the Handi Quilter, the stylus mechanism is adjustable.  Once you advance the quilt, you can move the stylus into position for the next row.  The Bernina's stylus mechanism is anchored on the machine and can't be moved.  That means you have to manipulate the quilt to get it positioned with the stylus.  That's a LOT harder to do - and I actually got it wrong on a couple of rows and I'm not sure what I did wrong.  On this quilt I used "Simply Stippling" and so the places where the rows aren't correctly spaced really isn't visible - but it would be a disaster to have alignments wrong on a pattern like "Baptist Fan".

    Fourth (and finally something I'm happy about), the Bernina stylus is more stable than the Handi Quilter's and has tips on both the top and bottom.  It's the tip that drops into the board grooves.  The tips on each end of the stylus are different sizes.  I used the larger one and found that it fits the Handi Quilter board grooves better than the Handi Quilter stylus does!  The overall result is that it's easier to control the Bernina stylus and there's a lot less "wobbling" - which has always been a problem with Handi Quilter.

October 4, 2017

Quilt 94 - Squares of Sharon - Summer Strips

This was my first quilt on the new Bernina longarm. 

I was simply astounded at how fast this one was quilted - I think something like 2.5 hours is all it took.  That's due to two things:

  1. "Bernie" handles speed a lot better than Matilda (my Handi Quilter longarm)
  2. Bernie has a 24" throat, where Matilda is 18" - that extra 6" means I can quilt more without having to stop and advance the quilt on the frame.
Here it is - mounted on the longarm.

Somehow I failed to make note of the name of the jelly roll and manufacturer that I used to make this "Squares of Sharon" quilt.  I'll just call it "Summer Strips" - and I think it was a Moda set (but can't swear to it, and the shop I bought it from doesn't have any more of those jelly rolls).

Anyway - here it is:

54" x 66" - quilted on the longarm (free motion and ruler) - cotton batting
I don't often take photos of an entire back - but this one turned out really well, with the cream thread contrasting on the solid dark green backing:
(As always - double click the photo to see a larger image)
Here's a closeup of the front so you can see the delicate wildflower prints.
And a closeup of the backing.
So I'm off and running with the Bernina!  Watch out, world!

October 1, 2017

Where Did September Go?

To be honest, I haven't done much quilting in the past few weeks - and that's why I haven't posted much.  Instead, I've been pretty much absorbed in getting our newly-renovated house settled.  That's taken a considerable amount of energy, a lot more than I expected it to.

But things are starting to settle down and I've got some projects to show you!  Some are new, but some are actually quilts I started a long time ago and didn't finish.  With the new longarm and the twelve-foot frame, I can finally quilt king-size quilts.  I have three tops that size that I never got around to finishing, so here we go!

Stay tuned - there's a new post coming this Wednesday with a quilt I just finished!