2018 Goal Setting

We are heading in to the New Year, so time to set some goals for 2018.  Yvonne at Quilting Jet Girl is  hosting a Linky Party for 2018 Goal Setting, so I’m spending some time reflecting on 2017 and looking forward to 2018.

Looking Back – 2017

Going into 2017, I said that my word(s) for the year were ‘Settle In’, as I had a lot of change in 2016 and really wanted to get into a routine and into a groove.  I wanted to find some balance, make time to sew, and get really comfortable and skilled with the things that I was doing.  Now, at the end of the year, I think I’ve done pretty well.  My ‘new’ job, after a 23 year career at another employer, is now almost a year and a half old and I’m getting adjusted to my routine.  At the end of 2016 I had also just bought a long arm, and I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with it as well.

These were my goals –

Long Term Goals:

  1. Find a good balance between work and life and make sure I keep making time to sew.  Getting a bit more physical activity and losing a few pounds wouldn’t be a bad idea either!  UPDATE:  I’m doing pretty well finding time to sew.  I have NOT done well with the physical activity/losing pounds thing.  I’d really like to find a way to get back to doing yoga.
  2. Continue to try new things with my quilting.  Learn new skills, make things that are outside my norm and my comfort zone.  UPDATE:  I’ve done pretty well here too.  I’ve worked a bunch with my long arm, and taken a lot of classes – online with Craftsy, in person with Angela Walters, and I joined a monthly long arming club at my local shop that focused on rulers.  I have also been playing with EQ7, and now EQ8, to try and get more into design.

Short Term Goals:

  1. Long arm, long arm, long arm.  I want to get very comfortable and capable with my new big machine!  I’m taking an Angela Walters class in March that should help.  UPDATE: I did really well here.  I love my long arm and am happy with the work I’m doing.  I set up my business, Brown Paws Quilting LLC and am looking for customers!
  2. Figure out something to do with all of these quilts!  I will be making some donations, but I’m also considering opening an Etsy store.  UPDATE:  I’ll be making a Project Linus donation and hope to set up an Etsy shop in 2018.
  3. Do less BOMs and quilt alongs this year and do more of my own designing.  I joined a monthly design group that should push me to do this.  UPDATE:  No real progress here.  The monthly group wasn’t as helpful with the designing as I hoped it would be.  I’ve done a few things, like my plans for my cat quilt, but mostly I’ve been wrapped up with finishing a bunch of older projects and practicing my long arm.
  4. Keep up with my Bee group.  I’m in a group with some great folks from my New Blogger’s group.   I’ve never done a Bee, so it should be fun.  UPDATE:  This went really well, and we are planning another year together!

Projects on the list:

  1. Sugar Block Club BOM layout and finish – DONE!
  2. Splendid Sampler layout and finish – DONE!
  3. Death Star quilt – DONE!
  4. Blueberry park Drunkard’s Path – DONE!
  5. Hawaiian batik sampler – no progress – but I may have a use for it now…
  6. My embroidered Bee quilt – on the long arm now!
  7. Other stash projects – I have a large amount of fun bundles I have purchased that I need to get working on (more Blueberry Park, some Alison Glass, Me+You batiks, some Grunge…) – some progress – I’ll do more with these in 2018.
  8. Long arm practice quilts (rings, funky squares, Circa 1934 Squares, mess-of-a-quilt) – all of these are DONE!
Looking Forward – 2018

For 2018, my word of the year is Grow – as in build or develop.  I feel like I set up a good base in 2017 and now it’s time to really branch into some new things.

Long Term Goals – keeping these the same, because they are pretty good ones!

  1. Find a good balance between work and life and make sure I keep making time to sew.  Getting a bit more physical activity and losing a few pounds wouldn’t be a bad idea either!
  2. Continue to try new things with my quilting.  Learn new skills, make things that are outside my norm and my comfort zone.

Short Term Goals:

  1. Design some quilts.  I’d really like to push myself and make some original things this year.  I think I have a mental block about designing and am making it too hard.  This year I want to push myself to get over this hump.  I am the Queen of my Bee group in February, and this year I will design my own block.
  2. Submit my designs, either full quilts or just blocks, for publication.  I don’t care if they are accepted or not – I just want to get them designed, created, and put myself out there and submit them.
  3. Build my long arm customer base.  I’ve started my business and have had a few customers, but I’d really like to do more.
  4. Learn to use my new camera.  I got a new DSLR camera for Christmas to help me take better photos.  I have absolutely no idea how to use it, so it fits well into my ‘grow’ mantra for the year!

I’m still playing around with this Cat Quilt idea I sketched out a few months ago:

Projects on the list:

  1. Finish the Bee-u-tiful Quilt along quilt – it is on the frame now and close to done.
  2. A secret project that I need to get done by mid-March.  I get to use my Alison Glass stash, so it will be cool!
  3. My Hazel the Hedgehog quilt.
  4. My Hawaiian Batik blocks – need to figure out how I want to put these blocks together and get the top done.
  5. Another baby quilt – I think I have until June…?
  6. Finish and quilt up my Dog quilt from the 2016 Bee Inspired group.
  7. Work up the Cat Quilt.
  8. From there, my docket is clear to design new things.  Now to just generate some ideas…?

I’m looking forward to a good time in 2018, learning new things, and finally getting over the designing hump!  Do you have any suggestions or words of wisdom?  Leave me a comment!

Linking up with the 2018 Planning Party.

Best of 2017 Linky Party

This is a good week to reflect on 2017 and make some goals for 2018.  Cheryl of Meadow Mist Designs has a fun Linky Party to capture your Best of 2017, so I think I’ll use that as an excuse to look back.

1. In terms of most comments, most views, and my favorite finish, my Splendid Sampler quilt fits all the categories.  I posted about it here when I finished it, and here for the Bloggers Quilt Festival and both posts yielded many kind comments.  This quilt was a lot of work, but I really enjoyed making it and especially quilting it.  It is now hanging behind my long arm and I love looking at it.

My new quilting space

2.  My proudest finish was Modern Sugar, which was my version of the Sugar Block Club 3.0 (2016) BOM (here is the post).  This was the first ‘real’ quilt (meaning quilt I really cared about) that I quilted on my long arm.  It came out really great, and eventually won a first place ribbon and Best Modern Quilt at the New Mexico State Fair.

Modern Sugar at the NM State Fair

3.  Most fun quilt was Dwight and Rudolph – my version of Elizabeth Hartman’s Dwight the Deer pattern (posted here).  I used Christmas colors for the backgrounds and made deer with a red nose to make a Rudolph.  I also got a lot of really nice comments on this post.  I love these critter patterns and have a Hazel the Hedgehog quilt in the works now!

Dwight and Rudolph

4.  Biggest learnings – I think I’ll split this into two learnings…

so 4a.  Learning to long arm.  I bought my long arm in November 2016, so my one big goal for 2017 was to learn to use my long arm and get comfortable with it.  At the end of 2017, I can say that I love my long arm and wish I’d bought it a long time ago.  I posted my thoughts on buying a long arm here, and this is Drunken Blueberry, my most recent finish, on which I did a lot of cool free motion and ruler work that I couldn’t have imagined I would be doing a year ago.

Drunken Blueberry

and 4b.  Be Social!  In looking through all of my 2017 posts, the ones that had the most views and comments were ones that I linked up to Linky Parties.  I had been participating in the Finish-A-Long (FAL) Linkies, but this year I joined up with Sunday Stash, Wednesday Wait-loss, and Let’s Bee Social.  I also was part of a Bee for the first time (Bee Inspired – check out our blog here), which I loved.  I will try to be even more social in 2018.

It was a good year and I’m proud of all the progress I made and finishes I completed.  Here’s to an even better 2018!

  Linking up with Cheryl’s Best of 2017 Linky Party

To Long Arm or Not to Long Arm…My Answer to that Question

In honor of the 1 year anniversary with my long arm, I thought I’d take a minute to reflect on buying my big machine, whether or not it was a good decision, and offer some thoughts on what I’ve learned through the year.

To cut to the chase…was it a good decision?  No doubt, absolutely YES!!

If you buy a long arm, does quilting magically become easier and will your quilts just quilt themselves?  Uh, no.  Like most things, it requires study and a lot of practice.  I love my long arm, but the year hasn’t been without it’s share of frustrations!

But let me rewind a bit and talk through my journey to buying the long arm.

I’ve been quilting for almost 20 years, and always quilt my own quilts.  I started hand quilting, then moved on to a walking foot, and then one day I was at Joann’s talking to the woman cutting fabric about free motion quilting and she said “honey, at some point you just need to drop those feed dogs and go for it”.  So I did.  I did a lot of stippling/meandering at first, and eventually got pretty good with free motion on my domestic machine (i.e. sit down, normal sewing machine).  However, while I was ok at doing it, it wasn’t really something I enjoyed, due to a few reasons:

  1. I hated – I mean hated – basting.   I did it on the floor, it took forever to do, and it killed my back.
  2. I often had puckering on the back of the quilt, no matter how well I basted or how careful I was while quilting.
  3. I felt like I needed to carve out a large amount of time for each quilting session.  It took a lot of time getting the quilt out, arranged, and ready to go, so it never seemed like I could just squeeze in a few minutes here and there.
  4. While you can quilt large quilt on a domestic machine, and I have done at least 2 king-sized quilts, I found all the arranging and rearranging hard and tiring.
Our Wedding Quilt – all quilted on my domestic machine

A long arm always seemed like a really great option, but for two problems:  the expense and the size.  They are really expensive for a hobbyist, and you pretty much have to dedicate a room to the thing.  Given these issues, I just couldn’t see taking the plunge.

I fell out of quilting for a few years due to crazy times at work, but picked it up again a few years ago.  I finished a few quilts on my domestic machine, and did a quilt along that introduced me to new patterns and techniques (Do the Math).  About that time I found that my local sewing machine shop offered lessons and rental time on their long arms.  I tried it out for two days and kind of enjoyed it, but mostly I was really frustrated and sore!  I was frustrated because there was just so much to learn and I found things I could do easily on my domestic machine looked terrible on the long arm.  I was sore because when you rent a long arm you really need to finish the quilt that same day, so I wound up standing and quilting for 7-8 hours each day.  Ouch!

Honestly after renting, I was pretty convinced I didn’t want a long arm.  Shortly after that, I sat down to quilt my Row Houses quilt.  I did it, and I’m happy with it, but it is a large quilt, puckered, needed to be ripped out and redone, and took forever, so when I was done I said ‘NEVER AGAIN’! …and I was done with domestic machine quilting.

I did a little bit of looking around at different kinds of long arms and talked to a few people.  I really wanted a 20″ throat machine, but really couldn’t find a local dealer that had one.  My local quilt shop had a sale last November where they were getting rid of demo models from Houston, as well as their own floor models, so I wound up getting a deal on the same long arm I had rented over the summer – a Handi Quilter Avante, which is an 18″ machine. I also found out that Angela Walters had an Avante, and I decided if it was good enough for Angela, it was good enough for me!

The dealer came and set it up the weekend before Thanksgiving, and suddenly I had this really big machine in my sewing room.  Honestly I was really overwhelmed.

I couldn’t even remember how to load the thing, let alone get the tension right or use the Pro-Stitcher (the computer that you can program with designs to automatically stitch).  I decided to start by just loading up some pieces of fabric to practice, then found a bunch of old unquilted tops in the closet.  At first I was worried about ruining the tops, but then I decided they had been in the closet for so long I hadn’t even remembered I had them, so what exactly did I have to lose?

Between these quilt tops and fabric pieces I just kept loading up new things to practice on.  I really made it a point to practice at least 30 minutes every day.  This is something I really love about the long arm – I can just walk up to it and start sewing, and then just turn it off and walk away.

I quilted my Sugar Block Club BOM and my Splendid Sampler in July and August.  I am so proud of how they came out, and I had a good time doing them.  I’m still learning, still need to practice, get better and more consistent, and learn more techniques, but I really happy with my progress so far.  I started my long arming business this summer, and have started working on a few client quilts.

I’m always looking for new clients!

So one year later, what tips do I have for someone who is considering buying a long arm?

  1. I would try renting first, just to get a feel for it and to see what is involved in the process.  But while it is good to take it for a spin, don’t get too frustrated too early.
  2. YouTube is your friend.  I watched a lot of videos, both ones that came with the machine as well as ones I found through Google to figure out problems I had.
  3. Commit to practicing at least 30 minutes every day.  It seemed to my from my time at my local machine shop that there were a lot of people who bought machines because they thought it was going to be very easy, but got frustrated and just stopped using it.  Practicing every day makes you use it, get comfortable, and improves your stitches.
  4. Getting the tension right is hard.  I have a few tips on this:
    • Get a bobbin tension gauge (a Towa gauge).  My machine has a readout that shows the top tension, and with the Towa you can get a read on the bottom tension.
    • Keep a log.  I started keeping a project sheet for every quilt and logged the brand of top and bottom thread and the top and bottom tension.  Eventually I started noticing trends and common settings for each type of thread.
    • The bobbin tension needs to be pretty loose – likely more loose than you think it should be.  I found a good video by Jamie Wallen of Quilter’s Apothecary.  I learned two really key things from this video:
      • When setting the tension in the bobbin, lay it in your hand and pull on the thread – the case should stand up but not leave your hand.  At first my top thread was way too tight, which was caused by the bobbin tension not being loose enough.
      • When you put the bobbin case in the machine, pull on the bobbin thread and make sure it pulls freely.  I had a problem once where I wound the bobbin with too high of a tension, and when loaded the bobbin thread would catch and snag.  Doing this test before trying to sew saves a bunch of time.
  5. Take classes and talk to people.  I was fortunate enough to take a class with Angela Walters in March, which was awesome and really helpful.  I also took ~3-4 Craftsy classes and watched a lot of YouTube videos.  I have a friend who got a long arm about the same time as I did and we have lunch and share ideas, and I joined a long arm club at my local shop.  Through all of these I’ve learned so much – the Towa gauge, how to use rulers, design ideas, thread, and how to deal with a multitude of problems.
  6. Don’t be too hard on yourself.  When you are standing with your nose to the quilt you can see all the imperfections, but once you get it off the frame you won’t see all that detail.  Also, it is true that if you surround imperfect stitches with more imperfect stitches, you won’t notice the imperfections – all you’ll see is the texture.
My new quilting space

Was it a good decision?  Absolutely.  I really love:

  1. Loading the long arm vs. basting
  2. No puckering on the back!!
  3. Playing with all the different designs.  I find this much easier to do with the work space in front of you rather than all squished to fit under a domestic machine.
  4. Rulers.  It seems now you can use rulers on a domestic machine, but that seems really hard to me!
  5. Because it is so easy to load, and so easy to just work on a bit at a time, I really finish quilts so much faster than I ever have before.  In the past, unless I was really committed to a quilt it was hard to make the effort to baste it and quilt it.  Now it is really easy for me to do, and I like doing it.

Those are my long arming thoughts – which really wound up to be more of an essay.  Hopefully you found this helpful – and if you have any questions, please comment and let me know.

Happy Quilting!

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