Friday, January 14, 2011

The Most Expensive Quilting Class I'll Ever Take

Yesterday was the event that quilters all over the Southwest dream about all year - the Quilting at the Lake retreat is a week long orgy of all things that quilters hold dear - think of it as a week of "Chatting over Batting."

I have been looking forward to this event because I'm new in town and a class is a great way to meet new people without feeling like a complete outsider - we're all learners, right?

Well the ladies at this convention don't believe in outsiders so I was welcomed immediately - the local quilting guild is super friendly and super fun.

But as for all being learners? Well let's just say there are different levels.

Case in point - I have often been teased for owning two sewing machines - in this crowd I was the "poor cousin" for owning ONLY two and to use another allusion in the same sentence (to wake up the English teachers reading) the "kid from the wrong side of the tracks" for the age of my machine.

I brought my "good" machine to class (I wanted to make a good first impression after all). It's an 18 year old Elna that was top of the line. "Was" is the operative word here. These ladies are sewing on sewing machines - Vikings and Pfaffs that cost $6,000! These suckers could put a man on the moon, they've got so many features.

The teacher, Linda, was very gentle when she saw my machine. Imagine the expression you'd use when talking about how someone's dear old grandma needs a seat near the window for her crop-dusting tendencies...sort of sad but understanding too.

So Linda placed a comforting hand on my shoulder and said that I had better use her machine for the class or I'd become so frustrated the other students wouldn't be able to hear her directions over my sobbing.

She was probably right.

It was a "Trapunto" class which I think originated back in the middle ages from mead-drinking quilters who slurred the words, "Trap under"...of course I'm just guessing, but the goal of Trapunto is to sew puffy bits into the quilt as you go along and use other stitching methods to create designs using shadows. It's a very elegant technique and requires no piecing of fabrics so there's no "country quilt" or "patchwork" effect at all.

Linda is a terrific teacher - her background is in art education so she was able to take the expert quilters in the class to the next level (it seemed like I was seated at the advanced table inadvertently) and simultaneously drag along the ones at the bottom like me.

Let me just explain that although I make quilts - I don't "quilt" them. I tie the layers together with yarn or tiny embroidery stitches and that's it. The quilting part of quilting scares me. Moving all that fabric through a sewing machine is like wrestling an octopus into a bag and then trying to give him a tattoo. It's not one of my skills.

But after Linda's class...I think I'm willing to try.

We started by tracing the pattern using a disappearing ink. This stuff is supposed to last 48-72 hours and can be washed away sooner...mine of course was disappearing as I sewed - could have been my drool over the Lamborghini I was sewing on...

Let me just add in here that I was sewing on a Diamond Viking. They also have a Sapphire, and a Ruby. Linda works with dealers and teaches classes for new sewing machine owners...I asked if they made a cubic zirconium model - more in my price range...nope. Figures.
Then we stitched using wash away thread - again I never even knew there was wash away thread (seems like something you'd sell to people you were trying to bilk doesn't it?).

The wash-away thread is sewn right over the marker - I used a fine point marker which was almost impossible to see - mistake #4.

The next step is to cut away the batting without cutting your fabric - harder than it looks actually.

I was good at the cutting away part - I have a long history of sewing the wrong things together so have honed my cutting skills.

Ironically, after you cut away that batting you flip the thing over you add MORE batting...and then you use ever pin you brought to keep the thing from sliding and start sewing with real thread.

The grid sewing was done in ONE go! It was Harold and His Purple Crayon in stitching.

The last step in the process is the free form "scribbling". Linda showed the class how to do it using my quilt block - she made it look soooo easy. It sounds easy doesn't it? I mean, tiny children can scribble...I am embarrassed to say that I actually called Linda over to help with my stitch length only to learn that there is no stitch length and my odd long stitches were due to my crappy scribbling technique...sigh.

Eight hours after I entered the room, I had completed one square. Sure, I'd started with the wrong machine, the wrong batting, the wrong thread, the wrong marking pen, not enough pins, no blue tape, and a deficient set of quilting skills but I finished with the start of an addiction...

I love the result! Very elegant - with 16 more days and a new machine, I'd have a lap quilt.

So my $80, lunch-included class is going to cost me thousands...when I buy a new machine...shh don't tell Dave.


  1. It turned out beautifully. Everyone seems to be getting new more expensive machines. At least when Mum bought her new machine I got her old one which was top of the line when she bought and it is digital (well to a point). It is the machine I learned on and I love it. Especially since I cant afford even a cheap new machine.

  2. Thanks - I know what you mean. I have a serious case of machine envy. I went ahead and ordered the walking foot and the free motion foot your mum reccommended for my current machine (and a new plexiglass table). If that works it's a $250 fix...fingers crossed...