Quilting ”Elizabeth” – finally! (Day 1)

May 2, 2013

Elizabeth book shot (Small) JPGWell, the day has come . . . I’ve begun quilting Elizabeth.  After only 4 years. . . .

Why have I waited so long?  To be honest, the biggest reason was . . . I was terrified.  It’s a gorgeous quilt (if I may say so myself) and I didn’t want to ruin it.  It took a long time to work out a design I was happy with.  Then it took me two years just to get my machine quilting up to a level it deserves.  Then there was the question of simply learning how to do it.  How to mark it?  How to do trapunto?

So now I’m going to share the journey, and since a lot of you have been asking me “How do I quilt a spiral quilt?” hopefully this will give you some ideas and inspiration.

First, the design. I really wanted to take advantage of the empty space in the corners of the background — to incorporate it into the overall design of the quilt, not just fill it in with a repeating design.

Since this quilt reminds me of Queen Elizabeth, I consulted sources on design of the Middle Ages.  I found Costume and Ornament of the Middle Ages in Full Color by Henry Shaw to be quite helpful. I started with sketches (I used a printout of the quilt in a plastic page protector, with dry-erase markers over the plastic), but eventually I found I needed to work full size.  So, one evening I took some large sheets of that clear plastic that are used to wrap flowers, and laid them over the quilt.  Then I got out some dry-erase markers and started to draw.

Designing the quilting for Elizabeth

Designing the quilting for Elizabeth

(I told a machine-quilter friend that I had done this and she nearly freaked.  She said that plastic like this can be porous — your pens can bleed through.  She recommends a 1/8″ thick sheet of Plexiglass.  Also, if you try this, whatever you use, be sure to put some sort of opaque border at the edge so you don’t accidentally write off the side of the plastic and mark your quilt.)

Eventually I got the design just the way I wanted it — a pattern of vines and ornaments that feels like a blend of Elizabethan design with the spirals in the quilt.  (And by the way, the rose medallions in the quilt are the Tudor rose — the symbol of the Tudor dynasty, to which Elizabeth I belonged.)

But now, how to get it onto the quilt?  My friend Teri Lucas (amazing machine quilter!) suggested using a pounce.  Many of you probably already know what this is, but for anyone who doesn’t, it’s basically a bag (in this case, a box with a cloth face) full of powder that you “pounce” over a perforated template.  The powder goes through the cloth bag and through the holes in the template to mark the design.  It’s an ancient technique — Michelangelo used it to transfer drawings onto walls for frescoes.  If it’s good enough for Michelangelo and Teri, it’s good for me!

So, I traced the design from the plastic sheet onto paper (I used a .5 millimeter mechanical pencil and my Simply Amazing Translucent Quilting Paper), then sewed along all the lines using a 90/14 needle (because I wanted big holes) and no thread.

The pounce template

The perforated pounce template

Meanwhile, I prepared a test sandwich for the quilt — I want to try out some techniques, test thread colors, etc. before I do anything on the actual quilt.

I already did a little quilting test the other day and found that just quilting with regular batting didn’t give me the lofty height I want for the vines in my design.  I remembered a video that Philipa Naylor did on The Quilt Show (www.thequiltshow.com) where she demonstrated her technique for machine-quilted trapunto.  Basically, it involves stitching in an extra layer of wool batting before she sandwiches the quilt and starts the regular quilting.  If it’s good enough for Philipa Naylor . . .

So, I layered the test top over a layer of wool batting — it’s lofty and soft and drapes well — then put a layer of scratch paper under that to keep the wool from shedding lint into the bobbin carriage.

wpid-IMAG2523.jpg

Next, I marked the top with the pounce (I forgot to shoot the picture before I stitched the first copy of the design, so you can see how it’s going to look later in the process.)

Marking with the pounce

And here’s what it looks like when it’s marked:

Marked with the pounce (a bit overexposed, but easier to see the markings this way)

Marked with the pounce (a bit overexposed, but easier to see the markings this way)

Next, per Philipa’s technique, I used water-soluble thread in the needle to stitch the wool into place. (Just use regular thread in the bobbin — it will remain between the layers of the quilt.)

A couple of words about water-soluble thread.  First, I was amazed that such a thing even existed.  Second, I was amazed that it was strong enough to go through my Handiquilter (and this is only the light version).  But it does, and it is.  Obviously, because it’s water-soluble, you need to take care to keep it dry — seal it in the bag when you’re not using it and don’t leave it in the machine.  A humid day could cause problems.  Probably best to use it on a clear, dry day, but I haven’t tried it on a rainy one yet, so I don’t know for sure.  (Never try to make English toffee on a rainy day, but that’s another story.  If you want to know more type “English toffee” in the “Search” box above.)

"Vanish" water soluble thread from Superior Threads

“Vanish” water soluble thread from Superior Threads

Next, it was just a matter of stitching around the designs that I want to “pop” with trapunto.  Not only does this prepare the trapunto, but I discovered it gives you a great opportunity to practice quilting the design.  It went much more smoothly than I had feared.  (Another of Philipa’s techniques — use small pieces of non-skid shelf covering for moving the quilt.)

Quilting the test with water-soluble thread

Quilting the test with water-soluble thread

One thing to keep in mind — make sure the thread tension is set so that no bobbin thread pops up to the surface of the quilt.  Yes, it’s not supposed to anyway, but just a reminder here.  Because, when the water-soluble thread washes away, you don’t want bobbin threads to remain visible on the surface.  But just in case, you probably should use a bobbin thread that matches the front of the quilt.  Look at this photo again, this time to see the quilted part.

Marking with the pounce

Now I have to tear away the paper from the back.

Tearing the paper off the back of the trapunto layer

Tearing the paper off the back of the trapunto layer

And that’s as far as I got today.  I have to go now — but I’ll continue to report on this process as I work.

Happy quilting!  R  🙂

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One Response to “Quilting ”Elizabeth” – finally! (Day 1)”


  1. Happy to have helped RaNae. This quilt is gorgeous!!! I like how you’re trying different battings!
    Teri


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