Standards of the Craft

Since I began art quilting in earnest in 2015, I have focused on two areas: creating a portfolio and process. I approached my work as a trained fine artist using my skills as a painter.

Today I am can work confidently in my studio adding to a recognizable body of work.  My quilts are travelling the world in gallery shows and are accepted into major quilt exhibitions. 

What I was missing wasn't the understanding of art. It was the understanding of the craft.


Standards: a level of quality used as a measure in comparative evaluations

Craft: an activity involving skill


Three years ago I purchased a mid arm machine to increase the number of quilts I could produce in my studio. I bought a The Sweet  Sixteen made by Handiquilter. After the purchase I spent  a year learning to use the machine efficiently. 

As I learned I tried to address the problems I had with quilting through a painted surface. I added custom cabinets on either side of my mid arm to allow me to easily slide my quilt and holds its’ weight. I attended some monthly informational meetings  at my local shop where I experiment the tools and techniques used by the long arm community. 

After becoming a more confident quilter I wanted to focus on meeting the higher standard expected at a quilt exhibition

This January I took a three day workshop with a company trainor. It was at the workshop I was exposed to the high standards of the craft of quilting. The first thing I took away from that three day workshop was the need to master a catalogue of motifs.

Motifs are the patterns of stitch used hold the top, batting and backing together. Quilters recognize and have names for specific patterns. The names of the motifs include feathers, ribbon candy, swirl, closed swirl, double circle, loops, triple bump and paisley. Free motion quilters memorize these motifs through hours of practice on the machine. Before starting quilters draw specific designs on both quilt tops and paper. 

Quilters apply these motifs to functional quilts. A single pattern can be applied across the entire surface of the quilt. They can choose different patterns for the blocks and borders. This skill is unique and those that master this skill are sought after and paid. It is a seperate art form.

The top of the quilt displays the motifs used to enhance the surface, while the bottom of the quilt defines level of quality.

Up until that class, I was at a loss to explain why a judge would bother looking at the back of  quilt made to hang on a wall. Now I understand. Looking at the bobbin thread exposed on the back of the quilt is used as a measure in  the comparative evaluations of quilt judges. 

Having control of thread tension is the key to getting a positive evaluation. During those three days I learned the process to adjust thread tension. 

On my machine I adjust by thread tension my turning a dial. I turn the dial to the left if the top thread is too tight and to the right if it is too loose. Since I use a gray thread with gray backing fabric it is easy for me to spot that top thread being pulled to the back. 

Each  time I change threads I test the tension with sample quilt sandwich. I use a sharpie to write down the number of the tension setting and the speed of the machine on the top of the spool of thread.

With this knowledge and simple process of testing and recording the results I have been shocked at the improvement. The back of my quilt just might meet the standards set by those quilt judges.

Until next time...