I know lots of crafters and fiber artists who do it all: they quilt, embroider, knit, and maybe even make garments on the side. But there are few that I know who approach the needle arts with such plucky humor and outright charming creativity as Catherine. She first caught my eye as a guest on Quilting Arts TV where she demonstrated intricate embroidery techniques and elegant stitches using specialty threads and dimensional stitches. Be still my heart. But that was just the beginning… Over the past few years, Catherine’s influence on the modern quilting has been hard to miss. With the publication of her first video, Modern Machine Quilting: Straight Lines, Spirals, Serpentines, And More, she introduced a new generation of quilters to walking foot quilting. And that was just the beginning. Since her first video, she’s been recognized throughout the industry as a leader and influencer, with appearances at Festival, teaching opportunities far and near, more workshop videos, webinars, and even a new book under her belt. Join me in congratulating Catherine for being the first personality recognized as our “Artist of the Month”.
Thinking about giving machine quilting a try but haven’t found the confidence yet? You’re not alone. “I meet a lot of quilters who’ve been making tops for years but never learned to finish them,” says award-winning quilter and quilting teacher Catherine Redford. “Many are nervous to try machine quilting because they don’t want to ruin their tops. I always tell them, if you want to learn to quilt, just get on with it. If you don’t, that’s fine, too. This is supposed to be fun. You don’t have to quilt yourself. But if you want to learn, go for it.”
In her new book Modern Machine Quilting, Catherine walks readers through the process of planning, constructing, and finishing a quilt on their domestic machine. Broken down into topics from getting started to practice projects, the book offers an inspiring, step-by-step guide to walking-foot and free-motion quilting with ingenious workbook-style pages (Catherine’s idea) that offer room for notes and doodles. There’s even a gallery of quilts for inspiration. Ultimately, the book feels like quilting with a more experienced friend who loves what she does and is good at explaining it.
We caught up with the busy fiber artist to ask how she got started and what advice she has for quilters who want to try finishing projects themselves without a long-arm machine.
Why did you start machine quilting on your home sewing machine?
I made my first quilt in 1998 and started machine quilting straight away because I wanted to finish it. At the time, I didn’t realize you could send quilts out. I thought if you wanted a project quilted, you did it yourself. It was fortunate really because I learned to quilt while I was learning to piece, so both skills improved at the same time.
What is your go-to quilting motif when using the walking foot and how does that differ from your go-to free-motion quilting motif?
It really depends on what I’m quilting. For a quilt that’s going to be used a lot, I like straight lines because they unify virtually any design. But if I’m making a baby quilt, say, then I’ll use an all-over serpentine stitch because it’s quicker, stabilizes all of the seams, and washes well. And it looks good! But really, an all-over serpentine stitch works for any utility quilt like that lap quilt on the sofa.
When I think of a go-to motif for free-motion, I’m not thinking about utility. I know it’s going to take longer, so it’s probably going to be more of a display piece. These days, when I’m free-motion quilting, I’m slightly more aware of the feel of the quilt. If it’s a flowery quilt or geometric quilt, I’ll keep that in mind. If it’s suitable for the look of the quilt or the recipient, I’ll do an all-over flower motif because you can vary the size, fill it in, and it looks great. But you can’t put a flower on every quilt. In those cases, I might use a mussel shell or a flame motif.
Why do you prefer domestic sewing machines to using a long-arm or even sending your quilts out?
When I first started quilting in this country, I was able to buy a good sewing machine and learned how to quilt on it. I prefer a domestic machine because it’s what I own, it’s convenient, and I know how to use it. Sure, a long-arm would be quicker, but for me, it’s about enjoying the journey and the process of quilting.
You often quilt your projects with multiple motifs; how do you decide which to choose and how to integrate them to create a unified finished quilt?
From the very beginning, when I’m designing a quilt and starting to stitch the top, I’m already thinking about how I’m going to quilt it. I’m envisioning what’s going to draw attention to the areas I want to draw attention to and what’s going to work with the aesthetic or feel of the quilt. Other than an all-over quilting motif, I like to use my walking foot to put down some basic quilting. Then I go back and fill in with a motif. So I’m gradually building up layers. Also, because time constraints are very important to me, I’m always thinking about the most efficient way to quilt my top so I can minimize the stops and starts. For me, it’s like planning a journey, picking the right route, avoiding traffic, and so on.
I often struggle with maneuvering my quilt through my machine and maintaining consistent stitches during the quilting process. Do you have any tips to help?
Get your machine set up on a good table with a large area around it to help support the quilt while you’re working. Consistent stitches are all about practice. Start with smaller quilts, so you can master consistent stitches before tackling a big quilt. That way you don’t have to cope with learning consistent stitches while manhandling that big quilt. It’s a lot harder to learn all of those things at once. Another thing to think about is the batting. A low-loft batting has less bulk. I recommend Quilters Dream Request because it’s thinner and makes it easier to quilt. But any low-loft batting will help.
What inspired you to write this book? And what did you learn during the process of writing it?
I’ve been quilting for nearly twenty years and writing this book felt like a great opportunity to put together everything I’d learned so far. While I was writing it, I became aware that what people really wanted was the confidence to start machine quilting. The first time I machine quilted I didn’t feel like the star student. But I wanted to do it, so I went home and practiced. I wanted to give my readers that feeling of “if she can do it, I can do it, too.” I also learned a lot about how to communicate with readers and help them be successful with their home projects. I had a really good tech editor who asked me questions while I wrote and it helped me clarify things in the book. And I learned that you take things one-step at a time. You do a bit and then you keep going. I’ve realized that one of my strengths is making machine quilting accessible to all.
Is there a project in the book you are most proud of?
It’s too hard to choose a favorite. It’s like choosing your favorite child. But I’m really happy with the way the book came out. It’s exactly how I imagined it. The designer did such a good job. The entire team, including the editor and the tech editor, was great.
Do you have any advice for beginners who want to try quilting on their home sewing machine?
There’s an African proverb that says, ‘The best time to plant a tree is thirty years go. The next best time is today.’ If you want to learn how to machine quilt, you just need to start. Start, practice, and push through. And don’t pull out what you’re doing. Just keep going. Finish the project and then start the next one. You can always look back at it and see how much you’ve learned and improved. But if you pull out the stitches, you’ll never finish the quilt and start the next one.
What are you working on now?
I’m going to be recording an online walking foot class at the end of August that’s coming out in the fall. So I’m working on all-new samples for the course. I’ve added new things I’ve learned since writing the book and revisited some old ideas and added to them. I’m also teaching full-time and thinking about my next book.
Keep thinking about that next book, Catherine. We can’t wait to read it!
P.S. Download a free table runner pattern designed by Catherine so you can start practicing your quilting right away!