I must make time (2002) 45 x 60in Made for the Made for the Husqvarna Viking Voyage of Self Discovery competition
I must make time (2002) 45 x 60in Made for the

Husqvarna Viking Voyage of

Self Discovery competition
The intricacies of a quilt, I always feel, should never be revealed all at once. After the initial impact, you should be allowed to get closer and slowly discover the subtle textures and effects.
 
I first discovered the dimension that writing can bring to a quilt with Im only a mum. I wrote Mummy Mother Ma Mum with an unbroken line of black thread on a green background, which created the effect of a continuous quilting pattern. In What Shall We Call It? I used yellow thread on a green background, and with Baby Talk the effect was more subtle still: I quilted babytalk in yellow thread on a yellow background. The hours of hard work hardly show up at all, but the words are there if you look! This stitched writing has all the individuality of my ordinary handwriting its the signature, if you like, that distinguishes one of my quilts.

So How Is It Done?

Well, theres no magic formula for machine writing, and you dont need a fancy machine with all sorts of whiz-bangs to do it for you. You must simply think of the machine needle as your pencil and the fabric as your paper, and learn to work freehand. The first thing is to ensure that youre sitting comfortably at your machine: an office chair is ideal for this as you can adjust the height and backrest. You should sit directly opposite the machine, too. I know that this may sound obvious, but having your chair slightly to one side of the machine can lead to all sorts of aches and pains thatll hinder your attempts to achieve the loose, free movement and flowing lines that are the essence of machine-quilting.
 
Next, you need to check that the feed dogs the little teeth that pull the fabric along are down. Your machine will either have a way of lowering them, or a plate with which to cover them. Without the feed dogs pulling the fabric along, youll be able to control the speed at which the fabrics fed under the darning foot, and hence the length of the stitch.
 
Before you start, bring the bobbin thread up to the top so that you can see where it is; otherwise you might be happily writing away and getting in a nasty tangle underneath. To make life easier, use the same coloured thread on the top and on the bobbin for an easier life. That way, if your tension is slightly out it wont show.
 
Finally, if your machine has a half-speed facility, turn it on. This will allow you to simply put your foot down and forget about controlling the machines speed, letting you concentrate on moving and turning the fabric as slowly as possible to get neat, even stitches.
 
Im only a mum (1997) 45
x 57in 
Im only a mum (1997) 45 x 57in
When you begin, relax your wrists and practice gliding the fabric around your fingertips without stopping and starting. Some quilters use special gloves for this with rubber-tipped fingers that cling onto the fabric and apparently help to avoid repetitive-strain injuries caused by having to continually press the fabric while you guide it. But gloves or not, I promise you that its something that will get easier with practice until machine-writing eventually becomes second nature!

Joined Up Writing

Once youre used to moving the fabric smoothly under the darning foot, you need to practice your calligraphy. When I was at school we had all the flourishes and loops drummed out of our handwriting, which had to follow the simplified style of Marion Richardson, the art educationalist from the early 1900s. Nowadays, very few people have any trace of the old-fashioned looping lettering in their writing, which is a pity as its ideally suited to the continuous flowing line of stitching that were aiming to achieve. You can machine-write in the modern, discontinuous style, of course (see diagrams), but itll mean repeatedly going backwards and forwards more times.
 
Joined up writing! 
One of the disadvantages of working freehand is trying to cast-off, to accurately gauge the space needed for each word. As a result, youll see that on my quilts which feature writing there are sometimes little doodles of flowers in among the words. These are filling in the spaces where the words fell short: There are no mistakes, my philosophy runs, only design opportunities!

Clean Language

If you dont feel confident enough to write freehand, try marking the spaces for the words, or even drawing the lettering and quilting over the top. When I need to draw guidelines for lettering or quilting, I use markers made from little slivers of left-over soap. Dried until theyre hard, and then shaved to a nice point, you can use them like a pale crayon on dark fabric: they glide over the fabric, make your hands smell nice, and theyre free!
 
Its well worth persevering, however, and learning how to write freehand with your machine because its a technique that can add some of those subtle textures and effects to your quilts even if the efforts not appreciated by everyone. Once, at a quilt show, I was sitting beside What Shall We Call It?, which has a complete background of names written with freehand stitching. As people came past, I was interested to hear their comments, until one visitor said, She doesnt do any of that writing herself, you know. She has a programmable machine!