Ad Astra Quilting


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.

Ad Astra Quilting.

Located in Des Moines, Iowa, USA.

Copyright 2015 .