Ad Astra Quilting


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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.


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.

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 

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.

Orange Peel, a Pretty Edge to Edge Quilting Pattern

Today, I'm sharing another beautiful quilt. This time it is the Tone it Down quilt designed by Lissa Alexander for American Patchwork and Quilting Magazine's 2014 Quilt Along. It is another one of my personal quilts, so I can tell you a little about what I was planning as I found fabrics, pieced the blocks, and finally chose a quilting pattern.

2014 APQ Quilt Along by Ad Astra Quiting

I wrote about this project a bit on my last blog before starting my business. One thing I shared was how beautiful I thought the quilt pattern was and how I loved the super scrappy version of the quilt which used so many different fabrics. I chose to mimic the original quilt as closely as I could without losing my mind. I sought a variety of low volume fabrics and even purchased new red, pink, blue, and green fabrics to help round out my stash to better match the palette of the original quilt. Something about this quilt felt like it would become an heirloom quilt in my family, and I wanted it to be as lovely as possible for my future children and grand-children.

2014 APQ Quilt Along by Ad Astra Quilting

Each block contains over 100 pieces and the quilt is made up of twenty blocks plus sashing and nine patch cornerstones. It was the most intricate piecing I had ever taken on, and having mostly made improv. and sampler quilts I was nervous that I would grow bored piecing the same blocks over and over. But in the end, it was the small changes in the low-volume fabrics, the careful arrangement to avoid having the same fabrics side by side that made it interesting. Not to mention how beautifully different each block looked due to the focal colors. 

2014 APQ Quilt Along by Ad Astra Quiting

As the quilt came together, I began thinking about my quilting pattern early on. I searched to see how others had chosen to quilt theirs, and found Camille Roskelley of Thimble Blossoms finished quilt. Camille had used an edge to edge Orange Peel pattern (quilted by Abby). The simplicity of the quilting is really lovely and to me, that simplicity keeps this stitch pattern on the edge between traditional and modern quilting -- making it perfect for this quilt.  I chose the orange peel pattern and quilted it with Superior So Fine #50 using a poly cotton blended batting by Pellon to achieve blending stitches and a soft lofted appearance.

2014 APQ Quilt Along by Ad Astra Quilting

This quilt is honestly too lovely. I joke that because I don't have any children, I can say with absolutely no guilt that this is the most beautiful thing I have ever made. It is my pride and joy. It will be an heirloom quilt for future generations.

APQ Quilt Along by Ad Astra Quilting

Ad Astra Quilting.

Located in Des Moines, Iowa, USA.

Copyright 2015 .