Finding Your Path

As Father’s Day and summer roadtrips are at hand, I can’t help but think about my father’s approach to travel. Safety was always paramount, and part of that meant that we needed to know where we were going, literally. As in have the entire trip mapped out. And, since there was no internet, we relied on real maps. We may well have been AAA’s best customers, obtaining TripTiks for every occasion.

Sometimes I feel that we were perhaps a little too well prepared, if that’s possible, but I’m grateful for the lesson. And, just as I still use a map (albeit one online) to figure out how to get someplace, it also helps to know where you’re going when you’re quilting. Three of the things I try to bear in mind before I start that sewing machine motor revving are:

  • Knowing where I’m going.
  • Having a plan for how to get there.
  • What I’m going to do if there’s an “emergency”.

By “knowing where I’m going” I mean that I try to figure out ahead of time the path that I’ll be quilting and how I’ll travel from one section of the quilt to another. This goes hand-in-hand with having a plan for how to get there.  When sewing motifs, try to figure out where to stop, where to change directions, and where to go next. When I wrote the “Filler Finesse” column for MQU, I included a diagram for every motif that did just that. Here’s Rose Leaves from the November/December 2012 column.

In this instance I recommended that you start at the bottom, go up to the top of the stem (point 2), turn around and come down to point 3, then stitch each leaf with attached stem before coming back down and starting your next motif. This is a pretty standard approach to sewing motifs. Note that there is some back tracking involved, but I’ve been encouraging you all to brush up on that anyway, and it’s good practice (smile). With a little work you can figure out a path for any motif. Sometimes it helps to draw it with a pencil on some paper, or trace the path you intend to stitch with your finger.

About a year ago I blogged about a basic “order” you could use to systematically approach quilting on a domestic machine. But once you’ve gotten to, say, the filler work, if you think through it first you can streamline your process a little bit. I made the quilt below so long ago that I don’t remember what approach I used to stipple around the motifs. I do know that I could have followed a path like the one indicated by red arrows in the photo.

Detail from Kaleiding Stars ©Diane Rusin Doran

By stippling in a path traveling back and forth between the yellow and gold areas I could reduce the number of stops and starts, and therefore eliminate having to bury some threads. That’s a win in my book.

This last sample has lots of different threads doing lots of different things. It required some forethought to go in and around the fronds in a reasonably graceful fashion. Again, I made this quilt a long time ago, but I can guarantee that I took my time before stitching to visualize where I needed to travel.

Detail from Grotto ©Diane Rusin Doran

So what do you do if there’s an “emergency”? By that I mean that either you get stuck, or maybe the thread breaks unexpectedly. I recommend that you start and stop in as inconspicuous a place as possible. Think about whether stopping and starting at an intersection or on a smooth curve will be less noticeable; it can vary depending on the design you’re stitching. If you get stuck or trapped in an awkward place, try to backtrack to an escape route, or simply stop and tie off your threads. If the thread breaks I will unsew an inch or more of stitching so that enough thread is left to bury the ends.

And how about my dad? He’s still safety conscious, and still likes to know where he’s going.

My dad and my sister last Christmas. We gave my dad an amazing flashlight, because it’s also very helpful to be able to see where you’re going.

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