Wednesday, May 10, 2017

"Do What's Hard"

Stardate 2017.130.01

This was the mantra of Karen McTavish – a renowned quilter from Duluth, Minnesota.  Through the local quilt guild, which I’m a member of, I had the pleasure of hearing Karen speak and display a trunk show during one of our monthly meetings.  Karen is a humorous, colorful, wonderful person and is a great speaker, capturing your interest from start to finish.  She doesn’t look like what we’d think a “quilter” looks like, with her long dreadlocks, tattoos, and heavy-rimmed black glasses.  Her amazing microquilting showcases her interesting spirit and her amazing talent.  She showed many quilts and I was struck by how small she would quilt some of her patterns, and the way she would vary the quilting within the quilt.  She might do one part of a block in straight lines, then mix in some of her more custom quilting (“McTavishing”) in the next part of the same block.  This lent interest and texture to each of the quilts she touched.  Her style is amazing and highly inspiring! Here's a couple shots of her quilting...

Hopefully you can see the quilting detail...very small and quite dense, but really added to the texture of the quilt.

More texture - up close.  She noted to keep the microquilting to the solid fabric areas as it gets lost in the patterned areas...

The next day, I was able to attend a Modern Quilting class which she was teaching.  I took time off of work to attend, and it was well worth the expended vacation day!  Two things she said really stuck with me:
  1.      Find one or two quilting designs you really like  and then practice them like crazy – master those designs – do them well, and then use that design in the quilts you quilt.  In essence, you develop your own “signature quilting”. I found that piece of advice interesting.
  2.        Secondly, she kept reiterating, “Do what’s hard”.  Meaning to not always take the easy route when it comes to your quilting.  Just as the quilt pattern and colors have an impact on the quilt, so does the quilting.  And the actual quilting can really make a pattern pop!
In that same token she really emphasized looking at the quilt, grasping its character, and quilting accordingly.    For instance, she noted, don’t try to quilt intricate designs in a Kaffe Fasset quilt, in part, because the intricate quilting will never show.  Save the intricate quilting for those negative spaces and spaces where it makes sense.  Once you get to those negative spaces, though, “Do what’s hard” – meaning, make those spaces stand above the crowd.
She’d noted there are no real rules in modern quilting – and so you really can do what you want, but in a controlled way. 

Now, while it doesn’t look like I accomplished much from the class, here’s what I did accomplish, with really only about one start/stop in each square block.  

I experimented with some patterns and they just seemed to flow.  I’d used my domestic machine, so I’ll be extrapolating these techniques to my mid-arm machine as soon as I get time (hopefully soon!). 

I was highly inspired by Karen and her attitude toward quilting.  If you ever get the chance to see her speak, GO!  It’s worth it!

I learned a few things that helped me out in my quilting, so I’ll share them with you.
  •      Stitch in the ditch around your block areas you want to quilt, then use that outline to help you determine how you want to quilt the inside of that stitched area.
  •      Square off.  Whenever you’re working on doing the detailed stitching, squaring off your design helps make the overall design more cohesive.
  •      Use thin thread.  In class, she had us using a 100 weight polyester thread.  That’s thin stuff!   But, when you’re doing a lot of backtracking on the quilting lines, the thinner thread won’t make such a “thick line” out of your backtracked stitches.
  •      Match thread color to the area you’re stitching.  Those matching colors hide a multitude of sins.  The eye blends the colors and sees through the thread to the texture you created.
  •      Look at the quilt overall to decide on your design, then attack it in small sections.  You know, kind of like “eating an elephant”…

Here’s a couple of examples of patterns I’m trying out for a large star quilt I’m getting ready to quilt.  I’m going to give that micro-quilting a go and see how the quilt turns out.  I have a feeling it may take a lot of thread, but I’m ready to experiment.  If you don’t push yourself outside of your comfort zone, you’ll never know what you’re capable of.

I love how the quilting just flows.  And, with the contrasting stars in the quilt (which are angular), this will really add movement to the overall quilt.
This pattern will be for the center of the star blocks.  You can see my "I don't like this" part of the discovery of how to quilt the center part...then I landed on larger leaf-like structures with a bit of echo quilting around them.

A shout out to my sister for taking photos of some of the quilts with her phone (my phone camera stinks!).  She got some great shots of the quilting!!

Linking up this week with folks at Let's Bee Social @ Sew Fresh Quilts, Finished or Not Fridays @ Busy Hands Quilts, and Confessions of a Fabric Addict.

Happy Quilting!!


  1. Well I am inspired looking at your pieces. Thanks so much for sharing. I only have a domestic machine and I really like that advice about doing what's hard. Will give it a go on a quilt I have ready to be quilted (I've been procrastinating as I didn't know where to begin on it!)

  2. I've long been a fan of McTavishing - thanks for sharing about your class with Karen. How lucky you were to meet her and take one of her classes.

  3. I've only tried McTavishing once or twice and wasn't happy with my results, but I must practice, practice, practice. Thanks.

  4. Good Morning!
    The quilting you did in the angular shaped star is just beautiful. I would say you have mastered that technique and can use it in other quilts! So nice, and what good tips as well. ~smile~

  5. I like your quilting in the star points! Thanks for sharing your tips.

  6. Wow. Wow. Wow.

    What a gift your summary analysis is for us all over the world!

    I am sure to read this a few times and remember something new each time. Xo