Thanks, I Needed That. (And My Two-Cents on Machine Quilting.)
Maybe I should post every time I need encouragement about finishing a project. (Help, I'm avoiding scrubbing the toilets. etc.)
All of your encouragement got me in gear and the momentum took hold. I finished the single missing block, sewed the rows, pieced the back and quilted the entire quilt.
I almost always use off-white thread to quilt but didn't think it would work here. The choices were clearly brown and gray. Since I thought the brown fabrics were a little more dramatic and stark than I had expected, I went with the gray in the hopes of softening the overall look of the quilt.
I'm pleased with the results except that gray on brown can be very revealing of mistakes...
I got a lot of questions about my quilting technique after posting the Cripple Creek Quilt so I thought I'd answer them here.
Let me just say that I'm no expert and my quilting leaves much to be desired but I have come quite long way in the one year since I ventured out of the ditch. I'm sorry to tell you that the only way I really saw improvement was with practice. There isn't any magic trick that will take you to the next level. I did watch/read as many tutorials as I could. The two that I found the most useful were Amanda's and Elizabeth's. The most important thing I took away from Amanda's was seeing how often she stopped and re-situated her quilt and the most useful thing I learned from Elizabeth was that I could put my left hand *under* the quilt and grab it from there. (Hey, it's the little stuff that matters.)
I didn't have too much trouble getting my stitches pretty even after a few practice quilts but my 'designs' were awful. I found myself getting caught up in the speed and not planning out the design very well and never really knowing where to go next. I ended up with lumpy squishy blobs, not the graceful swirling lines I was looking for. The thing that helped most with this problem was sketching. I just doodled my ideas - yes, even plain old stippling - until it flowed naturally and moving the quilt was just muscle memory. Another thing I remind myself while I'm quilting is to slow down. Sometimes I'm going going and I make bad choices because the momentum has hold of me. I have to remind myself to stop, breathe, assess the area I'm in and start back up. I also hum.
As for the technical stuff: I always clean the machine before quilting a new project and I use a new needle. One time I forgot to put my feed dogs down and honestly I couldn't tell the difference so now I don't bother with them. Also, (I know there are opposing camps on this) I don't wash my fabric for the most part before I use it. The exception, of course, being recycled materials (clothes and the like) and then I wash everything. While I've found it to be true that when using cotton batting you'll get a nice crumbly quilted feeling even with washed cottons, I find it to be more pronounced with unwashed fabrics and therefore 'softens' my imperfect quilting.
I hope someone finds this helpful and if you have any tips you'd like to share I'd love to hear them.