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Mastering the Meander with Angela Walters

Mastering the Meander with Angela Walters

The two big quilting stores in Spokane got together to bring Angela Walters, a machine quilting expert, in for a couple of days of classes. Heartbeat Quilting is the self-described “longarm store.” They have longarm machines available for rent and sell a wide range of batting and thread. Heartbeat is usually the first place I go when I need quilting thread. The Quilting Bee used to be a tiny store in a strip mall, but they outgrew that space and built a huge custom store two years ago. (Think of a store about the size of the husband’s shop.) They carry all sorts of quilting supplies and also specialize in Bernina and Janome machines. That is where I take my Janome in to get serviced. The class was held there because they have a lovely classroom area.

I really lucked out getting into this class. I am on both stores’ mailing lists. I happened to see the e-mail about the class one morning at 4 a.m., so I went immediately and signed up. Angela’s book was one of the first ones I bought when I started machine quilting and I refer to it often:

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The class I chose was called “Mastering the Meander,” and it was aimed at rank newbie machine quilters. I am a bit beyond rank newbie, but I have always had trouble with meandering. I was hoping that the class would help me master it, or at least reveal why it’s such a problem for me.

We were told that we could get into the classroom any time after 1 p.m. to set up our machines. Class started at 2 p.m. Due to some traffic, I didn’t get there until 1:10 p.m., and I was one of the last people to come in:

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My seat was over on the far side of the classroom as a result. The room setup was such that everyone had a great view, but Angela didn’t get over to our side much. (There was a sit-down longarm machine right in the middle of the front that took up a lot of space.)

Angela is a very dynamic, professional teacher. She paced the class very well, drawing and explaining each pattern first on the whiteboard, then demonstrating it on the longarm machine, then sending us off to our machines to try it ourselves. (You’ll notice that there is a lot of “Bernina” in the picture above—I think I was the only person there with a Janome, but I do love my 6600P.)

Here are the results of my class quilting. The first is my “meander,” which looks okay now that I have had a few days of not looking at it and can be less critical, but I still think my meanders look more like seaweed fronds and less like Angela’s meanders. More on that in a moment.

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These were my meander swirls. I haven’t done this pattern before and I like it, but I need more practice before setting this one loose on a quilt:

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And these were my leaves. By the time we got to the leaves, it was 4:30 p.m. and I was mentally hashed. I was also having tension issues—you can see the red bobbin thread poking through—and didn’t want to stop to figure out what was going on. I like these, but they also need some practice:

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I learned so much from doing just these three patterns:

  • Angela told us afterward that her students usually fall into one of two broad categories, those who love the meander and hate loops and those who hate the meander and love loops. I am in the latter group. I’ve done loops on at least half a dozen quilts now. It’s interesting that the meander is usually the first pattern suggested for beginners, followed by loops. I did it backwards. It was comforting to know that I am not the only one who really doesn’t like the basic meander pattern.

  • Watching Angela quilt, I realized that the meander involves short, jerky movements. I think that’s the part I have trouble with. I like to quilt in smooth strokes, which is why loops are so easy for me.

  • I tend to quilt slowly. Some of the people around me had their machines moving at top speed. The meander did seem a bit easier when I sped up my machine, but I also realized that part of the reason I quilt at the speed I do is because my foot pedal has a definite dead spot. It will accelerate smoothly up to a point, stall out for a second, then accelerate really quickly. I think I have unconsciously learned to push the foot pedal just up to the point where it might stall in order to keep my stitch lengths consistent. I need to experiment with that some more.

  • I also tend to quilt in lines or rows. “Meandering,” by its very definition, means wandering around. Apparently, I can no more wander on my quilts than I can in real life. I have to work on being less regimented.

  • Somehow, I had managed to forget my cones of quilting thread (Superior Threads 40wt), even though I had them set out to pack. As a result, I had to buy some when I got there. The Quilting Bee sells Aurifil 40wt. I normally use—and love—Aurifil 50wt for piecing, but I have never tried the 40wt for quilting so I bought a spool. I may start using it from now on. I really liked the stitch definition it gave.

I still have a few quilt sandwiches left over, which will make it easy to get more practice in one some of these patterns. Angela emphasized the need for practice over and over. It’s like anything else that requires muscle memory development.

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A few weeks ago, the husband and I watched “Seattle is Dying,” a documentary produced by one of the Seattle TV stations. We have a kid living in that city and I’ve spent a fair bit of time there over the past 10 years. Seattle has always had a homeless problem, but it has exploded in the past couple of years. Some of it is due to the increase in housing costs. DD#1 is living in an apartment about the size of our living room that comes with rent almost twice what she paid in Spokane for a house. Much of the homeless problem, though, is attributable to drug addiction. Rather than address the actual problem, the city council continues to attack the issue from the perspective of homelessness and has put policies in place to address the symptom without addressing the cause. In many cases, the police are forbidden from arresting people because it is seen as “picking on” the homeless. Property crimes and drug dealing go unpunished. There are tent cities at just about every single interchange on I-5—not just a couple of tents, but hundreds. The latter half of the documentary profiled a program in the state of Rhode Island, which decided to deal with the actual problem of drug addiction and has had great success treating people incarcerated for drug addiction and homelessness and getting them back into productive lives.

I was debriefing the husband on my trip when I got home and I noted that Spokane is starting to head the way of Seattle. I’ve noticed a definite uptick in the number of panhandlers and homeless. On Thursday, I stopped to check out some of the thrift stores in Spokane Valley. They are clustered together, so I usually park my car somewhere in the middle and walk from one to the next. As I came out of Value Village, I noticed a Spokane Valley police office speaking to someone camped on the sidewalk in front of a small grocery store. The manager of the store was also out there. I presume he called the police because having a homeless person camped out in front of the store was affecting business.

Yesterday morning, before meeting DD#2 for breakfast, I decided to stop in at the Target on the north side of the city. It was about 8 a.m., just after they opened. As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed a man loitering around the entrance. He was muttering to himself and at one point, I thought he was going to pull down his pants and relieve himself there. He moved off and I went into the store, but when I came out about half an hour later, he was back, asking people coming into the store if they had any cigarettes. As I drove off, I noticed that he was walking through the parking lot checking door handles on cars.

I’ve also been approached—in one case, rather aggressively—while walking downtown. These kinds of things never used to happen in Spokane. The homelessness issue was in the Spokane news quite a bit over this past winter, with more than one source noting that they believed that Seattle and Portland were putting homeless people on buses and driving them to Spokane and dropping them off. While I have no way to verify those claims, it wouldn’t surprise me if something like that was happening given the rapid uptick in the homeless population in the past year.

It’s a complicated problem requiring a multifaceted approach, but the key is to deal with the underlying problem, be it drug addiction, mental illness, or something else. I’m not interested in arguing about whose policies are more compassionate. I am interested in results, like the ones that Rhode Island is having. Spokane is such a nice city. I would hate to see it turn into a mini version of Seattle.

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