The Tres quilt was the second quilt kit I bought in a sale a couple of years ago in order to get my quilt journey going. The first was the Patchwork Quilt, which I finished as my first ever quilt and I wrote lots about how I found basting and quilting it myself at home. For this second, I thought it would be fun to try out a longarm machine. I want to make a large quilt for my parents and I know that it will be very difficult for me to quilt that one on my tiny domestic machine, so I wanted to know if it was even worth trying to do it myself on a longarm, or whether I should just send it to a professional for quilting. I know now that lots of people do send out their quilt tops, but there’s something about the fact that it’s a special gift that makes me feel like I want to do it myself. I’m sure I’m not alone.
The Tres Quilt by Alison Glass is a simple design, but, like all of her quilts, is very effective, and particularly when made with a range of bright colours. My quilt kit came with a selection from her Road Trip collection and at first I wasn’t sure if some of the more paisley-style prints were my thing, but I must say I love them in the finished quilt. They’re maybe even my favourites, so it just goes to show you how context changes the way you feel about things.
Each block is a riff on a half-square triangle, but where the coloured portion of the square is one of three different sizes – hence the name “Tres”. You therefore end up with three different size triangles (or “corner accents”) across the quilt. It’s therefore very easy to increase or decrease as you like, but I made the standard throw size quilt as that’s the amount of fabric that was provided in the kit.
I had some fun trying to figure out the colour scheme as with my first quilt. It might have been my imagination, but I found it slightly easier than last time where I really didn’t have a clue, but it still took a couple of attempts. I like the end result and feel like it has some movement to it.
Sewing the quilt top was quick and painless (I had it on my sewing desk for a while as a sort of “sew when you have a spare few minutes-type of project”) and before long, it was ready to be quilted.
I took a longarm quilting class in April at my local large quilt shop: Quilting Mayhem in Snohomish, WA. They had just started in-person classes again according to our local governmental phasing for Covid-19 restrictions, and I guess one good thing about the longarm machine is that you can keep your distance!
The class was fun and interesting, but there was a LOT of information to take in. How to thread the bobbin machine, thread the long arm, load the quilt and then all the stitching know-how: starting, basting, stopping and so on. I took lots of notes and signed up for my first session at the end. The machine we worked on was the HQ Amara and most of what we were taught was technical set-up. We got a little practice to see how it felt when using it free-motion, but there wasn’t really any instruction on the actual quilting itself in terms of design choices or sewing technique.
Quilting the Tres
I decided that I wanted to keep the design fairly simple for this quilt and planned to quilt either straight lines or a sun ray kind of design with straight lines emanating from each coloured triangle. Needless to say, both these plans went out of the window. Firstly, I discovered that the stoppers you use to keep the quilting machine in check while sewing straight lines were out of stock, so that was that plan scuppered. Then I decided to go for the freehand sun rays and realised very, very quickly that sewing perfectly straight lines without a template was well beyond my skill level. So I decided to improvise and go for a beginner’s favourite – the squiggly line.
I really like this quilt and so I don’t want what I say next to take away from it in any way, but it was intended to be a sort of “practice” quilt for me. It’s quite simple and if I totally screwed up the quilting, at least I didn’t spend months on it. Obviously I tried very hard not to screw it up, but this was my thinking and hence why I decided to dive right in with the squiggly lines.
It took me a long, LONG, lonnnggggg time to get the longarm machine set up again in my session. There was so much to remember that it was definitely a slow process. The ladies at the quilt shop are all very nice, but also very busy, so it wasn’t something I felt I could bother them with too much, although I just had to get help at some points. I would say in retrospect that it would probably help to have someone there to help you get set up the first solo session you do, as it’s just impossible to retain all the info in such a short class. I do feel now that I could get going pretty quickly next time though.
For the backing this time, I used a wide-back piece of fabric that I bought on the morning of the quilting, keeping my fingers crossed that something would match okay. I was on a real time-crunch because of participating in the Pattern Review Sewing Bee (see last few posts) and I simply didn’t have time to piece anything together. I think it works!
And the longarming itself? I really enjoyed it! It reminded me a bit of playing a video game and it was clear pretty quickly that a light touch was the best way to approach manoeuvring the machine. The big difference between doing it like this and at home is that one a longarm you move the needle over the fabric by way of a big lever. If you free motion at home, you move the fabric under the needle in the opposite mechanic. This machine had a regulator, which was lovely, as it meant that no matter how fast or slow you moved the needle, you would get the same size stitch length – a blessing for beginners!
Stitching in the ditch was quite tricky, but as time went on I got into a bit of a rhythm and my accuracy improved. One big advantage, of course, is that you don’t have to worry about basting and wrinkles – woohoo! This is definitely a BIG advantage in my book as that was quite tricky last time. Also, clearly size is not an issue and you don’t have to struggle getting the quilt through a machine.
The main difficulties were just a) figuring out a new machine, and this machine is not actually very complicated, but every new machine has its foibles and b) working out the capabilities of the machine in terms of design. To this end, now that I have an idea of the rudimentary basics, I’ve taken a couple of longarming books out of the library and plan to study them to see what I can do. I don’t know all that much about quilting design in any capacity, but I am planning to make a longer quilt soon as a gift, as I mentioned in the intro, so I do want to understand if I’m actually capable of doing what I want to do. I’ve also heard people talking about “rulers” and “templates” and all sorts of shenanigans, so I need to delve into those more too to find out what on earth they’re talking about.
Binding and customer service
The only real “error” I made in the construction of this quilt was when I was binding. I was on autopilot when I was making the binding and absentmindedly made binding at a width that was more suitable for garments – i.e. what I’m used to making. I even stitched it onto the quilt before realising that there was NO WAY that binding was going to fold over the quilt, even if I cut the seam allowance down to the quick. Even worse, I’d used up all my fabric and I wasn’t sure what it was exactly.
I looked up the pattern, but the picture and description featured a blue background and mine was definitely grey. I contacted Alison Glass and I have to say they went out of their way to help me. They really wanted to make sure I got the right fabric, sending me samples in the mail and scrutinising the photos I sent. It was worth it too, because the matching fabric is “Sapphire” from the Kaleidoscope collection and not the one I thought it was. Great customer service and thank you both Jessica and Alison (if you happen to see this) – it was appreciated.
I attached the binding using the same Missouri Star Quilt Company tutorial as last time and hand-sewed the binding to the back over a couple of nights while watching TV. Very satisfying!
So that’s it for the Tres quilt! I have another quilt that’s working its way towards completion bubbling away in the background. It’s more of a traditional sampler quilt that I’ve been making as part of a Facebook group project, which has been very nice and I welcome any sense of community I can get in these somewhat lonely times. Another project I want to try is an improvisational quilt. Nothing too tricky, but just something I can get stuck into with my own choice of colours and prints. Should be fun!
Talk to you soon!