The big quilt show where I live is Pacific International Quilt Festival, held in the Fall of every year. It's honkin' big show. Really big. Not quite as big as Houston, but it does take a full day to cover all the vendors and another full day to give at least a cursory look at the quilts. If you want to study or admire the quilts, give yourself another day. :-)
This year, as in the past, I was able to attend with a fellow quilter. She's not a longarm quilter but graciously allows me to gush and pontificate about longarm topics. At least she doesn't roll her eyes when I'm looking at her. :-)
One vendor that I really noticed this year was the Quilter's Rule booth. The items that caught my eye were the templates/rulers that can be used with longarm machines. Since I'm really still a neophyte when it comes to longarm quilting, I'm always on the lookout for new and nifty toys that will make my quilting life easier.
I found two templates this year ... a tool that stitches circles *inside* the template and a tool that stitches a 5 line cable in a continuous stitch.
The circle tool .... it's one of several that allow stitching of circles of various sizes. I bought the set that will stitch circles from 1" to 4", in inch increments. What's the big deal about stitching circles? Well, in a nutshell, at some point your arm is going to be in the way of the machine.
Think of a full circle template. Plop that template down onto your quilt. Hold it there with one hand .. let's say at 9:00. Now, start stitching around the outside of the template ... say at 12:00 ... remember to hold that template firmly so it doesn't move! .. and when the machine head gets to 9:00 .. OOPS!! your arm is in the way. You need to stop stitching .. keep that needle in the down position to keep your place! ... move your arm elsewhere ... then resume stitching. If you are talented or lucky or if you've practiced enough, you'll be able to resume stitching without a noticeable break in the stitching.
The point being that, as long as you are stitching along the outside of the template, at some point, your arm is going to be in the way because you are stitching a 360° design. It's annoying.
Quilter's Rule has come out with a nifty line of nested rulers that will allow you to stitch the ENTIRE circle *inside* the template! It's a very ingenious design. (They have other shapes using this nested feature, but I only bought the circle template.) This means that as you are holding the template firmly, your arm never gets in the way .. you can stitch the entire circle without stopping.
The vendor manning the booth was doing demos and she showed me how to use this template. She had me hooked with just the basic circle! But she also showed me how to do variations, one of which she called "String of Pearls", which is a line of circles that just kiss each other.
I'm working on a quilt right now that I decided I would try the circle template. Actually, I was cleaning out my sewing room and rediscovered them. ::ahem:: I didn't realize they had been MIA for 3 months. :-)
I probably should have tested the template on a doodle cloth first, starting with stitching a single, stand alone circle. But, oh no ... I want to work on a quilt! This particular quilt has two narrow borders, 2" wide. I would put the 1" circles in a line in those two borders. Furthermore, I wanted to put a String of Pearls in the border. Nothing like cutting your teeth on the fancy stuff. :-)
Now when you use templates with a longarm, you need to push the template against the hopping foot while at the same time, pushing the hopping foot against the template. This keeps the machine nice and snug against the edge of the template for accurate stitching. Apparently I push quite firmly. :-) What I discovered is that I tended to move the circle template so that, when I needed to backtrack (necessary for the String of Pearls), I wouldn't always be exactly on the previously stitched line. But, I figure this is a case of Practice Makes Perfect and for my first attempt, I was pretty doggone pleased with the result.
In the picture above, you can see the green centerline I chalked in .. this lines up with the guideline on the template. The top half of each circle is stitched twice; this is due to the technique necessary for String of Pearls. You can see that some circles are dead-on and some are slightly off.
[To stitch the String of Pearls, you first stitch a complete circle, stopping at the starting point. Then you *re-stitch* either the top or bottom half of the circle get to the point where you want the next circle to begin. In my case, I started stitching at 9:00, coming full circle back to 9:00. I then restitched from 9:00 to 3:00 ... at which point, the 3:00 position became the new circle's 9:00. Lather, rinse, repeat.]
The other nested shapes that stitched on the inside are diamonds, ovals, stars and a spider web! The oval one is pretty tempting.
Bottom line: I'm very happy with this template. I do have other, traditional full circle templates, which I can still use but I think it's going to be nice to have this option. The other available shapes offer me design options that I currently don't have and are worth looking into.
Then, the cable tool. This incredible tool allows the longarm quilter to use a *continuous line of stitching* to create a 5-line cable! Whoever thought of this template is a genius. The drawback is that it's a fiddly template to use. There are several pieces that must be removed (and replaced) in order to stitch the cable properly. It's not difficult but you do need to figure out how and where to hold the pieces so the hopping foot doesn't jump on top of the template. (It's scary when that happens!)
Once again, I didn't bother to practice on a doodle cloth and, as a result, the cable wasn't centered properly in the space. While instructions on how to USE the template are, thankfully, printed right on the template, there are no guidelines or directions (printed or on their site) on how to gauge positioning. (There are also some extra markings on the template that are not referenced in the printed instructions on the template. I intend on contacting Quilter's Rule for clarification.)
As for using the template, once I figured out where to hold it so that the hopping foot wouldn't jump on top of it, it allowed me to stitch out several 5-line cable segments that looked pretty doggone good for a first time! More practice will let me align the template properly so the lines that are re-stitched aren't obvious.
Bottom line: this template is fantastic! Allowing for the fact that there *are* loose pieces, this is a terrific tool.
In the picture above, you can see (at the bottom of the picture) the seam line that I used as my horizontal guideline. I didn't position the template correctly, so the last stitched arc extended past that seamline ... that was my mistake in not centering it. But, DANG! Don't those cables look terrific??? I'm really pleased with how they look from a distance! I figure, once the quilt comes off the frame, is washed and has a chance to wrinkle up, you won't notice most of my goofs. :-)
And I want to re-iterate ... that ENTIRE cable was stitched as a CONTINUOUS LINE. There was a tail to bury at the start and a tail to bury at the end ... and *that was it*. There were no other starts or stops along the way. Pretty doggone clever.