Keeping Up with the Latest in Quilting

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On Tuesday, June 9, 2015, I’m off to Duluth, MN for the 2015 Minnesota Quilt Show. I’m taking 2 classes there that will have me in the classroom from 8:30am to 4:30 or 5pm for three days. My first 2 day class is with Paula Nadelstern, one of my personal quilting heroes. I own all of her books and a LOT of her fabulous fabric. In case you aren’t familiar with her work, she creates incredible kaleidoscope quilts and fabric that is bi-symmetrical and can be used to attempt to recreate what she does so well. This class is all about her book “Puzzle Quilts”, first published in January of 2006.I have some of the fabric that is featured in this book and I’m totally excited to finally get forced to use a scissors on it. Her fabric tends to be the kind that you buy because it’s so fabulous and then fear sets in and it never gets cut into anything to make the quilt you thought you would make when you bought the stuff. I have yards of this kind of fabric. My husband threatens to get a double-wide casket for me when I die, just to bury me with my stash.

On Friday, I’m taking another all day class from Sue Heinz. This one is called “Domestic Bliss” and is all about using my home domestic sewing machine to free-hand quilt. I have taken other free-hand courses in the past and it’s always fun to get new perspectives. I have been quilting for others for nearly ten years now but, my longarm machine is computerized. I do have to tell it where and what designs to quilt but, the actual stitches are automatic. Free-hand stitching is altogether different and requires a good measure of brain to eye to hand coordination and a lot of practice to try for perfection.

There are times when I have been working on a customer quilt when I just can’t find a ready-made design that will work just right for the quilt. That’s when free-hand quilting can come in quite handily. My task after the Friday class, though, is to translate the newest skills I will come home with to my big quilting machine. There is a super big difference between sitting at a domestic machine with both hands guiding the quilt sandwich and standing at my large quilt frame gripping two machine handles that are about twelve inches away rom the fabric. It’s just not as intimate  and is more cumbersome, in my mind, at least. It will be interesting to see how I feel about it after the classes when I’m back home with my big machine.

Speaking of those ready-made designs that don’t always fit the moment, I’m spending the next three days over the weekend in classes for the software program, Art and Stitch. The classes are being taught by the software designers, Loes and Theo van der Heijden, coming all of the way here from The Netherlands. The software is an AutoCAD system for designing quilting stitches.  I have owned this software for several months and have played with it quite a bit. Not only can I design my own patterns, I can also alter designs by other people to fit a special case. Sometimes I have a design that looks super, except for one little piece of it that might stick out too much or just doesn’t seem to go with my idea of what I think would look good on the quilt. With this software, I can remove that item and it redesigns the stitching order to make the design still stitch out just fine. It’s incredible. I have one design that I have used over and over in quilts that is a great looking square block. I often use it on point. When you have an on point style quit, there are, most often, side setting triangles. If I’m using this design all over the quilt, I need it to fit in the triangles, too. In the past, my Gammill software let me get around this by deleting half of the block design. That worked fine but created a LOT of jump stitches and wasted a lot of thread. With this software, I was able to open up the block, get rid of the half I don’t need and the software rewrote the design stitching sequence, leaving me with just a couple of jump stitches. I was also able to use that same block design, with a few elements deleted, to create a border corner design that goes perfectly with a border I already had purchased from the designer. It opened up so many new uses for the designs. I will, however, only use these altered designs for personal use. They will not go on a  customer quilt that I get paid to do, nor would I ever dream of selling or giving them to another quilter. I’m sure that copyright laws would jump all over that situation and I respect my fellow designers way too much to do them any harm.

I do plan to start creating my own quilting designs to sell, however. Mums the word for right now on what kind of designs I’m going to do but, I do believe I have found a niche that needs to be filled. It may take me several months to get enough designs together to get them up for sale but, rest assured I will be happy to announce them loud and clear from every venue I can find, when I’m ready.

What this message boils down to in the end is this: For the next week, I am spending hundreds of dollars on classes and motel rooms in order to improve my skills as a quilter so that I can pass those skills on to my customers. I do this once or twice a year nearly every year. Those costs have to be recouped in my pricing for my work. There are a lot of longarm quilters in my area that do not invest in classes like I do. Many of them are excellent quilters with many years of experience. Some are new to the business. I do high quality work and I work very hard to continue to improve my skills. My pricing for my quilting needs to reflect the time and money that I have invested in my business. My machines are paid for but I still need to earn a decent wage for my work and I will charge more for my services than the longarm quilters do that do not have my skill sets nor the high level equipment that I choose to use. My customers get a great value for the money that they spend with me. It’s like the difference in fees between a General Practitioner and a Medical Specialist. I need to charge more for my services because they are worth more. I consistently see that quilts shown at our guild that are quilted by someone who charges very little for her work. Every quilt has the same quilting design on it no matter what the top looks like. These quilts were created by the owner with many hours of work and, if they purchased their fabric at a quilt shop, quite a bit of money. Why do these people then short-change themselves by getting a mediocre quilting job done to finish their piece of art? My prices aren’t over the top and they would have had a much more beautiful finished product. Even my non-custom, allover designs would have looked so much better and probably might have cost 10% more.

Thankfully, I do have some very nice customers who value my work and I love to work on their quilts. Over time, they become like family and it’s exciting to see what they will bring me next time. I would just like to be busier than I am. It’s so much fun to get in a new quilt top and spend time with it to get to know how it needs to be quilted. The look of joy on my customers’ faces when I give back the finished quilt is so precious to me.  There are time I get so attached to a customer quilt that I hate to see it leave. I can’t say it’s like giving birth, lol, but it’s close. By the time the quilt leaves my frame, I know it so well and it’s very rare that I wouldn’t love to have it as my own.

I would love to hear from other longarm quilters around the country and the world on what they charge for their services and what they do to keep up with the latest quilting trends. It’s always a joy to get other people’s opinions on this craft.

I would also love to hear from quilt top makers who hire someone else to do their quilting. I would love to know how they choose their quilters and why.

About Pam Heinecke

I'm a professional longarm quilter, using a Gammill Statler Stitcher. My business is Pam's Patchwork Paradise. I also sell Accuquilt Go! Products in my shop but, I do not sell fabric or notions. I'm married and have a son and daughter in college.

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