Cashmere Blanket part 3; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Walking Foot.

Another year, another quilt: this time, I am proud of having completed a substantial one in just over a year, learning a whole batch of new skills along the way. Looking back at my archives, I see that I started the felted jumper quilt in January 2012, back when we were living in the Slug House. In fact, I’m fairly sure I remember having to stop machine-piecing when working at the kitchen table one evening in order to hurl a particularly hefty sluggy specimen unceremoniously out of the back door when I discovered him sniffing around the foot pedal of my sewing machine.

In my first post about this quilt, I made reference to wanting instant gratification, and I suppose I should have known I was thumbing my nose at the sewing gods when I said that. I pieced the top, which was super-speedy, and then outline quilted a few of the blocks by hand, which was not remotely rapid. We moved house, and, for a while, I didn’t have any time to devote to the quilt. Then, too much time had gone by, and I fell into my old, bad ways: I started to ignore it. It lurked, reproachfully, in the front room, its hoop gathering dust. Periodically, I would move it about so it would look as if I had been working on it. Yes, that’s right: I worried about how my unfinished quilt made me look to other people, and yet I didn’t get off my backside and quilt the darned thing. A war of attrition set in: I put in a few stitches every so often, the quilt did a lot more reproachful lurking, and all in all, this looked as if it was going to be another ten year job. I thought about machine-quilting the top on many occasions, but I knew there was no way I’d be able to do this without attaching the walking foot to my sewing machine, which was something I had resolutely avoiding doing for the last few years. Finally, this weekend, I snapped: no longer would I be beaten into submission by a large collection of fabric and a small piece of metal and plastic. I was going to quilt this top on the machine, or die in the attempt.

Now, I had bought the walking foot ages ago in John Lewis in Cambridge, and had merrily skipped home with it, anticipating no problems. I read the brief directions on the back of the packet, whipped the cover off the sewing machine and… Hang on: I must have missed something. Where was that diagram? Oh, there wasn’t one. Maybe the sewing machine manual has some information on how to… No? Ah. Right. Maybe if I try to attach it this way… Hmm. Surely there must be a way to… Maybe if I turn it through 90 degrees?

If you’ve ever tried this with a Janome machine and a walking foot, you might know where I’m coming from. The wrestling match of woman against hardware carried on for a good half hour: I tried offering the foot up to the machine in various ways, and from a range of angles, all to no avail. The whole sorry episode may have ended with me throwing the offending part across the room, accompanied by a volley of harsh language, or that may just have been what I wanted to do. Suffice to say, the foot spent the next few years in disgrace in my sewing box. Periodically I would bring it out, stare at it and shake my head sorrowfully.

Finally, at around the time the patchwork quilt started making accusatory coughing noises whenever I passed it, I turned to Google for help. Why I didn’t think of doing this sooner, I don’t know: maybe a hefty dose quilt-related guilt was needed to break me out of the cycle of walking foot-avoidance. Turning to Google, I discovered this fantastic tutorial from Liesl at Hoppo Bumpo. I owe her an immense debt of gratitude: I’d never have worked the foot out without her instructions, and I recommend them to anyone who, like me, might be flailing. As you can see, I had the little sucker attached and threaded up in no time.

Once attached, I was very impressed with the walking foot: on some irrational level, I had assumed that it would make the fabric run away from me in an uncontrollable manner, but it really was a joy to use, even on the somewhat challenging medium of felted jumper (the sashing, which was just quilting cotton, was noticeably easier to sew). I’m a convert, and I’m certainly planning to use it again next time around: it seems I am not cut out to be a hand-quilter. For this top, I gave up the idea of outline quilting by machine as being too fiddly for someone of my novice-level abilities, and opted to quilt across the rows in straight lines, following up with some concentric squares around the sashing. I did have a few issues with the fabric, which was pretty tough to manhandle as it was so thick, and I have ended up with a few puckers here and there. If I’m totally honest, the top has also deformed slightly: it started off as a rectangle, and it’s now slightly trapezoidal. I’m guessing a lot of this is to do with the amount of give left in the knit fabric, and I could probably have mitigated it by trimming the quilt top more severely before I bound it. I’m not too worried, though: this is only the second quilt I’ve ever made, and as such it’s bound to contain the odd mistake or two: how else would I learn? It isn’t terribly noticeable, especially as a quilt tends to spend most of its time folded on the back of the sofa or snuggled comfortingly around you.

I’ll fill you in on the final details, including the binding, once I’ve had a chance to photograph the finished quilt in the daylight. If, like me, you are being held to ransom by your walking foot, get yourself over to Hoppo Bumpo. You won’t regret it!


4 thoughts on “Cashmere Blanket part 3; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Walking Foot.

    • Thank you! I wonder how long people spend banging their heads, literally or metaphorically, against their machines when trying to do this…

  1. I laughed at this because I have also experienced the frustration of trying to put a new foot on the machine and knew it had to be really simple but couldn’t work out how simple. The internet really is a life saver at times but its also a time eater.

    • I know that without this advice, there’s just no way I could have worked it out! Who knows: maybe I’ll learn how to use the binding foot next…

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