Midwest Road Trip

Last week, Peter and I were on a road trip. It was wonderful to be away – we have had one of those Summers when everything has been going wrong. Since his retirement, it seems like Peter has done nothing but repair things and read online guides and talk to repairmen, when he can’t fix something. Some months ago I signed up for the Midwestern Handi Quilter Event in Highland, Illinois, and when I asked if he would like to come along, I got a resounding “yes!”.

Our first stop was in Franklin Tennessee, which was #2 on my Where To Live Next List. It is a charming town set in lovely, rolling countryside, not far from Nashville. The horse farms and large estates (I looked at a house across the street from Reba McEntire’s farm!) are breath-taking. We had some yummy meals downtown and Peter toured the area on his bike while I window shopped. Next trip we will explore Nashville.

Handi Quilter makes my Sweet 16 quilting machine and I thought I’d like to go and see what I could learn about the machine and how to get better at free motion quilting.The Handi Quilter Event was sponsored by Mike’s Machine Shop and they did a nice job, and Mike is so knowledgeable about the machines. The classes were held in this Masonic Temple in Highland…..it’s quite a beauty!

The Event was 5 days long, but only the first two were relevant to me. I have a Sweet 16, which is called a “sit down, mid arm machine”. I do not use the HQ version of a stitch regulator, nor do I use a computer. She’s a plain vanilla machine and I’m delighted with her. Over the years I have taken machine quilting classes from “big deal quilters”. They show you how to do their quilting; the way they like to do it. Mary Beth Kraptil gave an overview, with many, many ideas for designs and how to accomplish them. After going over the basics of the machine and how to get the quilting started, she talked about a variety of quilt patterns, including “ruler work” and there was even a bit of time to try out her ideas and play with the rulers. And the mantra always is, no matter who teaches the classes, practise for 15 minutes every day!  She had samples galore, which are so helpful to see up close.

This idea for a practise piece was one of my favorites. She started with a printed fabric in the middle and then “finished” the motifs that were cut off. You can see that she added more floral and leaf shapes in the background and then fill, fill, filled!

Highland is about 45 minutes from St. Louis, so we decided to go to a Beer Week Event at the Anheuser Busch Biergarten. As you can see, it was a lovely evening… and check out the arch appearing in the distance!

It is so incredible!

The trip home was not as fun as the getting-there – isn’t that often the case? We were listening to a book on tape and I was secretly tracing quilting designs on my leg. I have so many ideas and some new tools and toys to play with!

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My Other Classes at IQA Houston

I have not written much about this, but my friends have gotten an earful about the tremendous problems I’ve had with my Bernina 820. I bought because I was so sure that the stitch regulator would help with my free motion quilting and planned to use the machine mostly for that purpose. It didn’t go well. The store where I bought it in Illinois was sort of helpful, though their machine mastery classes left a lot to be desired. However, whenever I had a problem they were glad to have me come and someone would help. Then we moved to South Carolina. In January, I decided to quilt a quilt for the guild show and I spent about 6 weeks fooling with the machine. I had endless tension problems, I changed thread brands many times. I threaded and re-threaded the bobbin and the machine. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Everything would be fine in the morning only to be bad in the afternoon. I would quilt during the day and rip out at night. I called the local Bernina store repeatedly. The sales ladies were very nice and would say I could come see “the Bernina saleslady” and then someone would call me back to say, no, I couldn’t. The owner wanted me to take their machine mastery class for about $350… I said that I had already taken it and of course they spend only a few minutes on quilting because there is so much information to cover. But she kept saying that because I had not bought the machine there, they wouldn’t help me! {If I bought a new sewing machine every time we moved, I’d be broke!}

I googled Bernina stores in NC, SC and GA and in desperation, I called the Asheville Cotton Company, and begged for their help – – – and they said yes! It’s about an hour drive there, but I was so relieved that someone would help. The saleslady took everything out of my machine and oiled it and wound a new bobbin and proceeded to take me through the process. Turns out there was a whole lot of operator error due to poor instruction during the original machine mastery classes. I was not inserting the bobbin case properly. I was not oiling the machine enough (more than once every bobbin!). I did not have the tension even close to the proper setting. I took the machine home and have barely touched it since. And I had to tell the quilt show organizers that my quilt would not be ready for the show. {End of rant.}

Before I bought the Bernina, my friend Beth told me she thought that I ought to buy a Sweet 16. It’s been in the back of my mind and lo and behold there were several classes offered at IQA Houston featuring Handi Quilter’s Sweet 16. For you non-quilters, this is what is called a “mid-arm machine”, meaning it has a larger throat space than a domestic machine but smaller than a long arm. It sits in the middle of an adjustable table and does nothing but free motion quilting, meaning that it has no feed dogs. I took two classes on how to use the machine. The first day was a basic class on how to get set up and going. The second day was all about threads and tension – a topic that makes me very nervous and was the problem I had with the Bernina. David Taylor taught them both, and he is one of the many “big deal” quilters who own and love Sweet 16’s. The best part about the class is that each person had their own machine and there were 26 of us. (In many classes of this sort, it’s two students per machine.) I call this picture “The Sweet 16 Sweat Shop”! You should have heard the din when we all were quilting!

Sweet 16 class

The woman sitting beside me did not need to take the thread and tension class… Not only did she create beautiful patterns, she spent very little time adjusting either tension. She was quite nice though and had all sorts of tips for me. I aspire to quilt like this.

Quilting sample

And guess what? I liked the machine, I liked the salespeople I met in the classes and I really like the high level of support Handi Quilter offers. The website has videos and webinars and they have several national workshops. So here I am, buying the machine that I used in the classes. {Anyone want to buy a Bernina 820???}

New Sweet 16

Wish me luck!