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Baby, got [quilt] back!

Let's talk about quilt backs!

The quilt back is sometimes an afterthought to the quilt design. Something chosen in the spur of the moment. Day in and day out, a longarm quilter becomes VERY familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of quilt backs as so many different quilts are handled one directly after the other. So I will be posting a series specifically addressing quilt backs, including everything from choosing and piecing the quilt back to preparation for quilting.

Let's begin with choosing a quilt back layout. Imagine your quilt back like a photo layout in a book or magazine, will you choose a full spread of a single image, a dual spread with two images side by side, a triptych of three panels, or maybe a collage of different sized photos fit together.

The ideal quilt back is an extra wide fabric, these are typically around 108" wide and can be purchased in yardage to ensure plenty of length and width. Why are they ideal? Due to their extra width, these do not require any piecing (Side note, my least favorite part of making my own quilts is piecing the backing... Imagine, I have just finished the quilt top, I'm ready to quilt! Oh wait, I still need to sew a few long seams to piece a backing together.  Ugh...). This also means that your backing will be SEAM FREE, which is lovely for a long arm quilter! You see, seams add bulk, and we already have so many seams on the front of the quilt. Stacking seams on top of seams with a layer of batting in between is harder work for the machine, dulls the needle more quickly and even changes the tension slightly! But even more, when I am quilting, I can't see the backing seams. There is no way for me to insure that the backing seams are remaining straight once quilting has begun. However, I am not an uncaring person. I understand you have yards and yards of fabric in your stash, some of which will never see the light of day on the front of a quilt.

Therefore, many of us will piece together various bits of yardage from our stash. Most quilts can be covered by two widths of ~42 inch fabric aligned vertically on the back of the quilt. While this is the easiest solution, it creates a seam down the center of the quilt. The center of the quilt is shown to be a weak spot over time due to the way we commonly fold quilts or blankets. Since we want our quilts to stand the tests of time, we don't want to add a seam into an already weak location. Instead, sew the two widths of ~42 inch fabric together on both selveges creating a long tube, then cutting down the center of one panel and opening flat. This method centers one of the 42 inch widths with two approximately 20 inch panels running vertically along each side, avoiding the center crease weak spot.

Additionally, a vertical seam is unable to be monitored by a long arm quilter, as mentioned above, so it may end up as a wavy or skewed seam due to the machine moving back and forth across the fabric. When the quilting design allows, your long arm quilter might even turn the quilt 90 degrees so that this seam is parallel to the frame and possible to monitor along the front backing bar for straight alignment during the loading process. Seams that run horizontally or can be positioned parallel to the frame are more likely to be straight after quilting.

Of course, you can always get even more creative with your quilt back! Create a collage of fabrics, utilize the remaining cuts from the front of the quilt. Create a focal block, or add interesting piecing. Quilt backs can be as beautiful as the front of the quilt, adding another layer of beauty and enjoyment. But remember what I've said about seam bulk, and alignment issues, each of these is compounded the more pieces you add. Try to avoid elements that would need to be perfectly centered or aligned to a specific location of the quilt, as this becomes additional time and effort for the quilter and could result in a special charge.

The moral of this story is, when choosing to piece your quilt back consider whether you are using directional fabric or desire a directional quilting design that will impact the way the quilt is loaded on the frame. Also, imagine how the quilt will be folded or used over time and consider what areas of the quilt may incur frequent creasing due to folding and develop weak spots, avoid seams in that location when possible.


Christmas in July

It's the holiday season! Can't you feel the snow as it melts on your face? Wait, I guess that's just sweat because it is still blazing summer here in Iowa! That's okay though, this is the perfect time to start planning your holiday gift giving!

This year as we prepare for the winter holidays and a busy Christmas season, Ad Astra Quilting will be pre-booking time slots leading up to Christmas. By pre-booking your time slot, you are ensuring that your project will be returned to you in time to add the finishing touches without the stress and worry. Pre-booking will require a $50 deposit in order to hold the time slot, and also to ensure we have all the supplies and materials ready when it is your quilt's time on the frame.

So you are a quilting phenomenon and your quilt is ready to go early, huh? Well let us know and we will put you on a list so you can be moved up if an earlier time slot opens up!

What's that? You're the opposite and always finish your quilt a little later than you anticipated? No problem, all we ask is that if you do not feel you will be ready in time please provide at least one week notice. We will then contact one of those who finished early and attempt to re-arrange the schedule so that you can still get your project finished.

Riane's Star Crossed Fish Quilt and Unexpected Difficulties

A few weeks ago, I shared about how I met Riane of Vessel Quilts and the quilting I did for her on her Welded quilt. Today, I'm going to tell you about the second quilt I worked on for Riane, Star Crossed, and the unexpected difficulties that arose.

Riane sewed Star Crossed as part of a sew along hosted by Fat Quarter Shop. She shares about her fabric choices (THE FISH!!!) and the construction process on her blog, so be sure to drop in over there and read more about that part of the quilt making process.

When Riane and I met to talk about the quilting and her plans for the quilt we went over a few of the more obvious design decisions, thread color, batting type, and design motif. One concept Riane was keen on emphasizing was the motion of the design in the fish fabric, so we discussed swirling or round motifs. Riane utilizes a lot of traditional piecing and quilting as inspiration for modern updated approaches to her quiltmaking, so we decided on a traditional quilting motif, Baptist Fans. We also chose to work with  100% Cotton batting by Pellon which I carry by the roll, cotton batting shrinks up to 10% when washed and creates a nice plump crinkled appearance. Finally, we selected a well matched white Superior So Fine #50 for the thread so that it would blend nicely across the fish fabric and show up against the teal of the stars and the blue backing fabric.

With all of the decisions made, I went online to purchase a digital quilting pattern, the fastest way to create an all over edge-to-edge design for those with computerized quilting capabilities. I selected one from a site I have often used, downloaded it, and set to manipulating the size and repeat within my digital software. The version of Baptist Fan I purchased illustrated a closed or open nesting option, I prefer the closed nesting option because I thought it looked more traditional than the open nesting (nesting refers to the distance between each row of the fans as they are quilted and how closely they are arranged).

These images illustrating the closed versus open nesting options came from the digital quilting design website, I purchased from.

After a few rows of quilting (by the completion of the third) I realized the closed nesting didn't quite align. In fact, I spent a lot of time trying to decide what was happening because the outermost fan would touch and align perfectly, the next layer of the fan would hit very close, the third layer would be a little further, and the inner most fan would overlap a full quarter of an inch. Then the next fan would begin aligning perfectly again and slowly misalign as the fan continued, then align perfectly again on the next fan, repeating across the quilt. 

The issue was most visible on the back side of the quilt which was a solid blue backing fabric. The original image and an image with notations pointing out the issue.

Due to the way digital quilting patterns operate, the horizontal spacing is fully dictated by the design itself. I did not need to align the position of the individual shells, and the vertical alignment is also computer guided at the completion of each row.  The only conclusion I could come to after troubleshooting was that the design itself was flawed and would not produce the closed nesting as illustrated in the example images provided by the website without misaligning and overlapping the ends of the fan over the arch of the previous fan.

At this point I had already stitched at least three of the eight rows of fans and was faced with the option of ripping out two full rows of quilting and re-quilting using the open nesting option where small misalignments would be less noticeable. Or continuing as I had begun and ripping out only the small misaligned edges of the fans, hand-guiding small areas of quilting to lock the threads in place.

I chose the second option and completed the digital portion of the quilting, then rolled the quilt back and began working from above and below the quilt still on the frame to rip the troublesome stitches where the misalignment was visible. After ripping small inch wide sections across the width of the quilt, I hand guided the machine to stitch over these areas and lock the loose ends in place and complete the design where it had been removed. Hand guiding the machine was unfortunately not as easy as I wanted simply because I was working to match the perfect smooth quilting lines of the computer guided fans yet also lock the stitches. 

This detail image shows where I ripped the original stitches and restitched to correct a misalignment issue. The small needle holes would disappear as the quilt was washed and used or could be encouraged to close by gentle brushing with a damp toothbrush.

By the time I finished working on this quilt, I was an emotional mess. I was very upset with the quilting and felt it didn't represent myself well, even though I had spent hours correcting an issue I hadn't caused. I felt certain that no matter how sweet a person Riane is she would be unhappy with the results and would see every error and issue just as I could. In fact, the errors and issues were the only things I could see at this point. I contacted one of my quilting mentors and friends and spoke to her about her experience with customer disappointment and how she handled it, I looked online for reviews and posts about people receiving or dealing with similar quilting issues. I wanted desperately to start all over having learned from my mistake, trusting without testing.

I called Riane and met with her, happy she was local and I could see her face to face. I showed her the issues and explained what had happened, expressing my regret and sincere apology. She understood and of course was not nearly as upset about it as I was, we discussed some options for me to make it up to her and agreed that this wouldn't be the last time we worked together. I'm certain my relief showed all over my face. I have since been in the process of communicating with the digital pattern designer, determined not to let this same issue affect someone else's quilting.

One thing that really struck me during this process was how seldom I read about quilting issues and errors from the quilter's perspective. Sure, these stories pop up occasionally on forums for long arm quilters seeking advice and suggestions, but rarely is the whole story or at least both sides shared. Instead, I read a number of posts and blogs from disgruntled customers having worked with long arm quilters and received disappointing results, sharing their mistrust and annoyance, and their perspective. Often these posts didn't share the perspective of the quilter, or what the quilter might have done to try to recover the situation, if he/she was ever even made aware.

My quilting, is my bread and butter, yes; it is how I make my money and pay my bills so I certainly want to protect myself as a business person. But it is also a representation of myself, my art, my craft, and my character. I have never met a harsher judge of my work than myself, which is something I must constantly battle as I work for others; beating back the voice that tells me I haven't done enough or won't meet their standards. I can't even tell you how disappointed in myself I would be to know one of my customers was unhappy and unwilling to let me make it up to them or work with them to correct the situation. So in my effort for transparency I share this story with you and ask that you remember to leave space for human error. When you work with a small business of any sort, especially a one person operation like my own, express honestly and kindly your feelings and expectations, and remember to give that person the chance to meet your expectations if they fall short. 

Until next time,


UPDATE: Riane took some lovely photos of this quilt which I wanted to share, you can view them in the Gallery.

Frayed Edges and Stray Threads

Throughout the quilting process small issues will arise even for the most experienced quilters and seamstresses. Occasionally, these issues travel into my hands as I work with various quilters, suppliers, and technicians at all experience levels. As I come across such situations, I hope to share about them here on this blog as both an educational post, as well as, a sort of business transparency.

The first post in this series will be on the topic of frayed edges and stray threads. I mention trimming threads and frays on the Quilt Preparation tab of this website, and will honestly say that it is certainly not my favorite activity when I have finished piecing a quilt and feel ready to quilt it. However, it is an important part of the process, particularly if you are concerned with a clean finish.

The backside of the pieced top shows the frayed edges of the fabric at the seams with numerous strands of dark and light yarns across the quilt.

You see, often as we design our next beautiful quilt we, sometimes unwittingly, use a technique of color theory called contrast. Contrast involves placing two or more dissimilar or opposite colors side by side to accentuate the area, in short to make a design "pop". Particularly common in quilting is piecing colored or dark fabrics directly next to a white or cream, thus causing a stark difference between the pieces and making a highly visible design. However, this combination comes at a risk.

As you continue to work with the fabric pressing, trimming, pulling and pushing it through your sewing machine, the fabrics will continue to be loosened from the weave structure and individual yarns will begin to fray from the edges. These frayed yarns hang from the raw edges and seam lines on the backside of your pieced quilt top, at first they are not very noticeable as we often work on colored cutting mats or pressing tables during the piecing stage. However, as your pieced quilt top is pressed closely to the quilt batting in preparation of quilting, the dark colored frayed yarns become visible through the light fabrics creating a shadow or stained appearance.

The tiny hooked end of the thread pick points to a stray dark yarn trapped between the pieced top and batting during quilting.

The best plan of attack against these imperfections is to take the time to carefully look over the backside of the pieced work and trim any frayed yarns or threads hanging from seams. You have already committed so much time to preparing the quilt, a few more minutes spent carefully inspecting your work can save a great deal of headache down the line. While you perform this fray check look for other small imperfections such as popped seams or small gaps, as these can occur if you accidentally created a scant 1/4" seam which then further frayed. Correcting these issues here will prevent further damage or more difficult fixes down the line, which can all add up if you are sending your quilt to a professional quilter. Also take note of any additional issues with the quilt or fabric, perhaps small stains have appeared during the piecing process as you drank coffee or wine while sewing. If you aren't sure how to fix them, mentioning them up front to the quilter might result in suggestions for stain removal or corrections that you can manage and add to your toolbox of quilting knowledge and skills.

The end of the thread pick is inserted through the fabric of the quilt top and carefully (though blindly) hooked around the stray dark thread.

Back to frays and strays, when this issue travels to me as the quilter, I have a small tool I can use to fish these yarns and threads free pulling them through the front of the quilt on a tiny hook. However, this can be a time consuming process if there are many to correct and can result in additional charges being tacked onto the estimated quilting cost, I will contact the client and ask their opinion whether these issues will bother them and whether they are worth the additional time and cost for me to correct. If there are few (fewer than six) of these, I typically will pull them without additional charge as a certain amount of fraying or strays cannot be avoided.

The stray thread, after being carefully hooked, is pulled out through the top of the quilt.

Now, as I said at the beginning, I wrote this post as an opportunity to educate the quilters I work with, as wouldn't we all like to improve our quilting skills and knowledge? Also, I never want to be thought of as taking advantage of the wonderful people I work with, their business is a blessing to me but it is also business and my time has value too, so in an effort of transparency I shared this process and the possible repercussions to the cost of quilting services. Please let me know if you have any questions regarding any portion of quilting preparation.

Riane's Welded Quilt

I have a few things to share with you, but I'm going to space them out a bit so each gets your full attention. Are you paying attention yet? The first is a really versatile modern quilt sewn by Riane of Vessel Quilts.

Riane Menardi

First, I have to tell you how excited I was when I met Riane. Oddly, I just happened across her on Instagram one afternoon a few months ago, and was immediately intrigued when I realized not only was she a board member for the Modern Quilt Guild but she also lives in Des Moines! How did I not know this talented quilter in my own city? So I started browsing her blog, and like many other things it became a constantly open tab on my phone so that I could return to it and read more. Then, at the next Des Moines Modern Quilt Guild meeting, I noticed a new face, she was young and doing hand-applique on the Collection Quilt by Carolyn Friedlander, which I can spot from a mile away since it is also one of my works in progress. As we did show-and-tell, it all came together. This was Riane! The same Riane whose blog was currently open on my phone! How exciting! That night with a few other girls from the group we went out for post-meeting drinks and I got to hear a little more about Riane, her life in Des Moines, and her work as a board member for the national Modern Quilt Guild.

*Sidebar: I cannot even begin to tell you how much my life has expanded and improved since I joined my local quilt guild and modern quilt guild! I have met so many people that I admire, learn from, and truly enjoy seeing and sharing with! If you haven't found your people, keep looking because joining a local social club related to your interest is such a blessing!*

Anyway! The next month Riane had to run off to Pasadena for QuiltCon (lucky girl!) so I didn't see her for a month or more. Then, out of the blue, she sent me a request via this website, she wanted to talk about having a few things quilted. Riane explained that this was the first time she was planning to have something professionally long arm quilted, she does exquisite sashiko style hand quilting on many of her self-designed projects. However, she had a few too many projects hanging around needing finished so she was calling in reinforcements and I was happy to help. We met and talked about her style and aesthetics, opened the quilts and talked about thread color and scale. She has really lovely taste but as a new quilting customer it was important for me to become familiar with her expectations and aesthetic while she learned a little more about the process and what to expect from me.

We decided on a neutral white thread to accent the design on the sea green fabric by April Rhodes. Riane suggested a quilting pattern she had seen online called Diagonal Plaid designed by Patricia Ritter of Urban Elementz. I was able to scale the edge to edge quilting design to align nicely with the scale of the the piecing design.

I excitedly got to work on the first of her two quilts, Welded, a quilt stitched as part of Art Gallery Fabrics and Fat Quarter Shop's Stitched blog tour and a free pattern and tutorial . Riane shares about piecing and designing her fabric choices for this quilt on her blog. Since the quilting pattern is offset overlapping diamonds nothing had to be too perfect but this was pretty darn close! I was thrilled with the results of the quilting.

Due to the on-point piecing setting of the quilt, these diagonal diamonds echoed perfectly across the quilt.

Riane is stitching the binding on, but she promised me some full finished photos on her blog soon! So be sure to check in over there to see updates of this quilt as it is finished. Also, unless she has changed her mind, she plans to sell this quilt, so if you haven't gotten enough in photo you can own the real thing! Next week, I will share about the second quilt I finished for Riane! Thanks for visiting!


UPDATE: Riane took some lovely photos of this quilt, they have been added to the gallery, please check them out!

Sarah's Student's Charity Auction Quilt

Do you know what I love? I love that people jump in to quilting with their whole heart! Sarah did just that when she decided to create a quilt for her school's charity auction, did I mention this was her first quilt ever!

Here is the finished front of the quilt, I love each of the mandalas designed by the children and the beautiful colors.

Sarah works at St.Cecilia School in Ames, Iowa. The school is solely supported by donations and the upcoming Gala event is their greatest fundraiser. Sarah explained to me that each class creates an art project to be auctioned at the gala. Since this year's Gala has a world theme the class projects were designed to reflect that. Sarah chose an Indonesian/Indian inspired textile design and the students each created a Nepalese style mandala on the computer to be translated using a glue resist Batik onto a Moda quilt block. Sarah's class used a glue resist and Dyn-a-flow paint/dye to create beautiful individual quilt blocks. 

A glimpse at Sarah's student's charity gala auction quilt.

Originally, she had planned to quilt and bind the quilt herself, but as time dwindled and the quilt grew larger she realized she needed to call in a little help. Thanks to a few connections in the modern quilting community she was directed to me and I was able to fit her in over spring break. Since the quilt is for an auction, Sarah asked that we work at a reasonable price range with an edge to edge quilting design. She let me choose a quilting design suggesting only that swirls would be nice to echo the movement of the children's mandalas. So I selected a design and got to work!

A final step in the quilting process is the binding. I offer various binding options to help our customers along, binding preparation, partial binding and full binding. Sarah chose to save herself a little time and sanity by having me prepare and fully bind the quilt for her. She sent some remaining white Moda strips from the quilt trellis to be used for binding.

Before you go, I have to show you the back of this quilt. I love how Sarah chose to finish it with ombres created from the same fabric dyes. It is seriously beautiful.

If you would like more information about the Charity Gala and auction which will be held on April 16th, please visit 

Lisa's Long Awaited Reproduction Style Quilt

Lisa is a local here in Des Moines and when she was looking for a quilter, she looked locally first by contacting our local modern quilt guild for suggestions. I love working locally because I get to meet my client and talk with them face to face and even learn a little more about their life and how the quilt will fit in! Sometimes I even get to see the quilt after it's completely finished!

This quilt story and quilt had me in love from the get-go! Lisa first saw her quilt inspiration at a quilt show years ago. A beautiful antique quilt in amazing condition and rightly so worth a small mint! She took photos, as the real thing was sadly beyond her budget.

 The original quilt inspiration found at a quilt show many years ago.

The original quilt inspiration found at a quilt show many years ago.

If I remember correctly, it was a year or two later when her Aunt asked her what kind of quilt she would like as a wedding gift (aren't quilty relatives the best?). Lisa knew immediately and printed out the pictures for her Aunt. Luckily, Lisa's Aunt already owned a lot of reproduction fabrics and she began working on the quilt.

Here is Lisa's Aunt after she finished piecing the quilt top.

At one point after the quilt top was finished, Lisa had the opportunity to have it long-armed for free by a family friend. However, the quilter wanted to try a new pattern on the quilt with something along the lines of feathers. Lisa held strong and resisted the urge for free quilting until she would be able to afford getting the quilting style she wanted, a replica of the original.

Here is a closer look at the original quilt.

Since the border area of the quilt wasn't the exact replica we took a little liberty and quilted piano key stitch in the ditch through this area, checker boarding at the corners. The main body of the quilt received the diagonal cross through the neutral blocks, just like the original. Due to the nature of this design, the quilting was entirely hand guided and therefor qualified as semi-custom quilting.

The finished quilt was too large to photograph, but you get the idea right? It's gorgeous! Lisa had me whip up some matching binding and her mother will finish out the quilt. If my memory serves, it is now approximately seven years since Lisa first fell in love with the reproduction quilt. A true labor of love from so many people, this quilt story is heartwarming.

Snowy Christmas Quilt Story

Occasionally, I will try to share a quilt story with you. Most of these will be customer quilts which I have quilted and have the permission to share about, other times they will be my own quilts, or even charity quilts. The first, is one I completed just before Christmas for my friend Eva Marie.

The best full shot of this "too large for one person to hold" Zig Zag Christmas Quilt we could manage!

Eva Marie had a bee in her bonnet last Christmas about finishing mountains of projects and gifts, and then using up her Christmas fabric scraps! This quilt was made entirely from scraps, and then she even had enough left over for another entire Post-Christmas quilt! 

A nice view of sparkling snowflakes.

It was a bit of a last minute idea to make this quilt, but I was able to get it on and off the frame in about three days. Her daughter, Cate, was the excited recipient and  Eva Marie was able to get it bound for her just in time for the week of Christmas! Something about quilting these beautiful snowflakes and helping to make a last-minute Christmas miracle really put me in the holiday spirit, I almost made a Christmas quilt myself! Maybe this year?

I loved the variety of snowflakes included in this particular quilting design.

Details: This quilt was quilted with the edge-to-edge quilting design "Sparkling Snowflakes" designed by Randy Brunette using Superior So Fine #50 thread.

A view of the Sparkling Snowflakes design meshed into an interlacing and wrapping edge-to-edge design.

Ad Astra Quilting.

Located in Des Moines, Iowa, USA.

Copyright 2015 .